Reading the "Outsider Within": Counter-Narratives of Human Rights in Black Women's Fiction

By McCoy, Shane | Radical Teacher, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Reading the "Outsider Within": Counter-Narratives of Human Rights in Black Women's Fiction


McCoy, Shane, Radical Teacher


In Pedagogies of Crossing (2005), M. Jacqui Alexander asserts that human rights are not rights at all; in fact, human rights do little to mitigate the violence perpetuated by late capitalism and the legacies of imperialism and colonialism. Alexander's point of contention brings to bear the fact that passing a declaration of human rights and condemnation of human rights' abuses by the United Nations, among other groups, institutes a "dominant knowledge framework" that continues to perpetuate unequal power structures (2005; 124). Writing for The Guardian, Eric Posner makes the case that international human rights laws have shown little evidence that the top-down approach is even effective ("The Case Against Human Rights" 2014). The hegemonic ideological framework of human rights is largely controlled and dictated by the United States and other Global North nations in an exercise of paternalistic control in defining 'freedom' and autonomy for the Global South. (1)

As a teacher of literature and composition at an elite public institution, I often encounter students who have taken-for-granted assumptions about global politics and human rights. In order to intervene in the post-feminism/post-racism world of many undergraduates in the UnitedStates, the cultivation of skepticism in the literature and composition classroom becomes a primary pedagogical responsibility for radical teachers who desire to disrupt rights-based discourses that perpetuate neoliberal ideas of social justice and normalize stereotypes of the Global South. How do we as teachers cultivate skepticism in our students regarding the exceptionalism of the United States as ideal purveyor of social justice and human rights? How might counter-narratives in post-colonial black women's fiction function as a pedagogical tool that disrupts students' naive assumptions about human rights, in general, and women's rights, in particular? Finally, how might counter-narratives affect students' perceptions of racialized women in the Global South? To intervene in this dominant narrative, my essay focuses on the function of counter-narratives in black women's fiction as a useful pedagogical strategy for teaching about human rights in the undergraduate composition classroom. I frame my analysis within theoretical debates in critical pedagogy and turn to what Stephen Slemon (1992) defines as the "primal scene of colonialist management"--the literary studies classroom--in order to examine the ways in which contemporary post-colonial black women's writing problematizes the rhetoric of "women's rights as human rights." Despite the common belief that white middle-class undergraduate students are consuming "exotic" literature when reading post-colonial or immigrant fiction, as noted by scholars Kanishka Chowdhury (1992) and Inderpal Grewal (2005), I maintain that counter-narratives are useful for intervening in the reproduction of a "patriotic education" (Sheth 2013) that undergirds rights-based discourse, in general, and human rights, in particular, as desirable global policies that mitigate the violence of social injustices. Michelle Cliff's Abeng (1984), Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy (1990), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah (2013) perform a counter-"cultural technology" in teaching about human rights in literary studies through the lens of, what Jodi Melamed calls, "race radicalism," that is cultural production that interrupts the totalizing effects of neocolonial and imperial discourses so often produced in dominant Western literature (Represent and Destroy 47) (2).

Patriotic education also reproduces stereotypical images of foreign nations that has a profound influence on how students construct cognitive schemas of racialized women in post-colonial contexts (Bracher 2013). In the post-9/11 era, the "woman question" becomes even more salient as a cause for war in attempts to rescue "brown women from brown men" (Spivak 1995) in Afghanistan. (3) While much of the feminist literature on human rights has focused on the Muslim hijab (4) and female genital mutilation (5), a focus on the pedagogical function of teaching about women's rights through literary texts that feature the perspectives of "outsiders within" deserves attention. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Reading the "Outsider Within": Counter-Narratives of Human Rights in Black Women's Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.