Resisting Anti-Blackness through Counternarratives

By Tulino, Daniel; Krishnamurthy, Sharada et al. | English Journal, November 2019 | Go to article overview

Resisting Anti-Blackness through Counternarratives


Tulino, Daniel, Krishnamurthy, Sharada, Fall, Madjiguene, Browne, Susan, English Journal


The persistence of narratives in the media that distort and demean Blackness, and in particular Black males, occurs alongside real acts of hatred and violence against Black people in systems of oppression. According to a study conducted by The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice nonprofit organization, "media of all types collectively offer distorted representations of the lives and reality of [B]lack males" (22). In fact, the study found that there is a predominantly negative association of Black males with criminality, unemployment, and poverty, but a limited portrayal of Black men as fathers or other positive role models. Similarly, a report by Travis L. Dixon for Family Story and Color of Change on a two-year study of news and media coverage of relevant stories showed that misrepresentations of Black families were persistent. Furthermore, negative portrayals of African Americans on television shows and in film influence viewers' perceptions of African Americans (Punyanunt-Carter). These limited, stereotypical portrayals "negate the broader and deeper experience of [B]lack life and the lives of [B]lack men in particular" (Smith). One of the ways to challenge the misconceptions about Blackness is through counternarratives about Blackness in writing and literature.

In this study, we engaged in a close reading (Brooks et al.) using a critical lens to examine three young adult (YA) novels for their capacity to challenge the perceptions of Blackness in American media and society through counterstorytelling. We argue that Hush, All American Boys, and The Hate U Give can be analyzed through a critical race lens as "bundle narratives" (Fine). The history of bundle narratives can be traced back to early eighteenthcentury abolitionist narratives. Viewed as a "bundle of critical race counternarratives that worked to bring slaves, free Black people and White people to the cause of abolition" (Taliaferro Baszile, "Rhetorical" 246), the three novels we have analyzed work to bring Black, Brown, and White people to the cause of dismantling and disrupting current systems of institutional oppression. As these texts are YA novels written by African American writers, we also explore the African American young adult (AAYA) storytelling tradition and the role it plays in resisting dominant narratives about Blackness. Through our analysis, we have grounded these texts within the historical critical race counterstorytelling of Black abolitionists. Our close reading provides a link to the past firmly established in abolishing assumptions of Black inferiority. Further, we insist that these three texts continue in the tradition of counterstorytelling that draws on personal experience and "outlaw emotions" by resisting the many forms of White supremacy (and White rationality) and igniting revolutionary acts of social justice (Taliaferro Baszile, "In Pursuit").

This study is guided by the research question that asks: "How do young adult (YA) novels offer counternarratives that challenge mainstream representations of Blackness and help dismantle systems of institutional oppression?"

CHALLENGING ANTI-BLACKNESS

Our work seeks to link the intellectual works of W. E. B. DuBois and Jacqueline Woodson to the critical race theory (CRT) lens that challenges the way racism negatively affects the educational experiences of people of color (Bernal; Ladson-Billings and Tate; Yosso). CRT involves the creation of counternarratives that are "intended to interrogate and subvert the logic of multiple rationalities" (Taliafierro Baszile, "Rhetorical" 240). Michael J. Dumas and kihana m. ross argue that Black bodies continue to be marginalized, disregarded, and attacked in and outside of our schools, and that this form of "antiBlackness" builds a permanence of racism and subjectivity through policies that facilitate and legitimize Black suffering in the everyday life of schools (419). Through the use of critical literary texts, authors are using their collective voices to resist forms of oppression. …

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