Monday, March 31, 2014

Conditions of Identity

The three articles read for today’s class all bring up identity in one way or another and discuss the nature of race and gender while taking a critical look at the portrayal of such identities – male, female, white, and black. 

In Phallus(ies) of Interpretation: Toward Engendering the Black Critical “I” duCille  discusses what is considered by others “an essential black experience.”  Although duCille dispels this viewpoint, the issue remains that many black male critics would say that “one can be black or a woman, but claiming both identities places one on shaky familial ground.” These critics require and demand better black male characters – male characters who would not fit the stereotypical mold upheld by the white community. The works of black feminist authors are snubbed. They are told that they put “their gender before their race, their (white) feminism before their black family.” Suddenly, to be feminist is to be white and is, therefore, a form betrayal.

Trudier Harris also makes reference to identity but by critiquing Walker’s portrayal of the African American woman. Harris says that she was enraged; she could not identify with Celie and knew no black woman who would. She claims that a stronger Celie – a Celie more like Sofia – would be more identifiable, and that the acceptance of suffering that Celie upholds for most of the novel is more akin to the white fairytales of Cinderella or Snow White. Celie, through her feminist – or even victimized feminist – portrayal, has been white washed.

These two articles seem to associate an identity with a set of characteristics. The identities of black and woman have been pit against each other, but to what end? It seems that rather than lifting the other group up, they work to tear them down, working against rather than together. In The Black Person in Art: How Should S/he be Portrayed?, we encounter different responses to questions regarding the criteria for true representation of the black male or female. Many commentators created a set of requirements for proper representation. Lloyd Richards specific response had piqued my interest. He answered with a question of his own: “How should any person be portrayed in art?” Identity was stripped: there was no black or white or female or male. There was simply ‘person’ – the ultimate identity that both critics and authors should not forget. It is important to view the struggles of a group of people, but it should not be at the expense of a well-rounded character. An identity is not a personality. 


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