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Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination

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More than forty years after the major victories of the civil rights movement, African Americans have a vexed relation to the civic myth of the United States as the land of equal opportunity and justice for all. In Sites of Slavery Salamishah Tillet examines how contemporary African American artists and intellectuals—including Annette Gordon-Reed, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Bill More than forty years after the major victories of the civil rights movement, African Americans have a vexed relation to the civic myth of the United States as the land of equal opportunity and justice for all. In Sites of Slavery Salamishah Tillet examines how contemporary African American artists and intellectuals—including Annette Gordon-Reed, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Bill T. Jones, Carrie Mae Weems, and Kara Walker—turn to the subject of slavery in order understand and challenge the ongoing exclusion of African Americans from the founding narratives of the United States. She explains how they reconstruct "sites of slavery"—contested figures, events, memories, locations, and experiences related to chattel slavery—such as the allegations of a sexual relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the characters Uncle Tom and Topsy in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, African American tourism to slave forts in Ghana and Senegal, and the legal challenges posed by reparations movements. By claiming and recasting these sites of slavery, contemporary artists and intellectuals provide slaves with an interiority and subjectivity denied them in American history, register the civic estrangement experienced by African Americans in the post–civil rights era, and envision a more fully realized American democracy. Salamishah Tillet is Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. "Sites of Slavery is an original contribution to the scholarship on memory, representation, and New World slavery. With keen insight and dazzling analysis, Salamishah Tillet attends to the implications that contemporary representations of slavery have for our understanding of the history of slavery in the United States and of African American identity. This book crosses disciplines to offer a compelling view of the many ways that slavery lives in the contemporary imagination and colors the way we see our past, our present, and our future."—Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University "Sites of Slavery is a meticulously researched, persuasively argued, beautifully written, and intellectually daring study of contemporary narratives of slavery. Through her dazzling readings of fiction, drama, dance, cinema, visual art, heritage tourism, reparations legal cases, and critical race historiographies, Salamishah Tillet demonstrates how a range of African American artists, writers, and intellectuals respond to the contemporary 'crisis of citizenship' by foregrounding a 'democratic aesthetic' in their representations of slavery. This book will transform the way we think about the place of African American cultural production in relation to 'post–civil rights era' political discourse."—Valerie Smith, author of Toni Morrison: Writing the Moral Imagination


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More than forty years after the major victories of the civil rights movement, African Americans have a vexed relation to the civic myth of the United States as the land of equal opportunity and justice for all. In Sites of Slavery Salamishah Tillet examines how contemporary African American artists and intellectuals—including Annette Gordon-Reed, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Bill More than forty years after the major victories of the civil rights movement, African Americans have a vexed relation to the civic myth of the United States as the land of equal opportunity and justice for all. In Sites of Slavery Salamishah Tillet examines how contemporary African American artists and intellectuals—including Annette Gordon-Reed, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Bill T. Jones, Carrie Mae Weems, and Kara Walker—turn to the subject of slavery in order understand and challenge the ongoing exclusion of African Americans from the founding narratives of the United States. She explains how they reconstruct "sites of slavery"—contested figures, events, memories, locations, and experiences related to chattel slavery—such as the allegations of a sexual relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the characters Uncle Tom and Topsy in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, African American tourism to slave forts in Ghana and Senegal, and the legal challenges posed by reparations movements. By claiming and recasting these sites of slavery, contemporary artists and intellectuals provide slaves with an interiority and subjectivity denied them in American history, register the civic estrangement experienced by African Americans in the post–civil rights era, and envision a more fully realized American democracy. Salamishah Tillet is Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. "Sites of Slavery is an original contribution to the scholarship on memory, representation, and New World slavery. With keen insight and dazzling analysis, Salamishah Tillet attends to the implications that contemporary representations of slavery have for our understanding of the history of slavery in the United States and of African American identity. This book crosses disciplines to offer a compelling view of the many ways that slavery lives in the contemporary imagination and colors the way we see our past, our present, and our future."—Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University "Sites of Slavery is a meticulously researched, persuasively argued, beautifully written, and intellectually daring study of contemporary narratives of slavery. Through her dazzling readings of fiction, drama, dance, cinema, visual art, heritage tourism, reparations legal cases, and critical race historiographies, Salamishah Tillet demonstrates how a range of African American artists, writers, and intellectuals respond to the contemporary 'crisis of citizenship' by foregrounding a 'democratic aesthetic' in their representations of slavery. This book will transform the way we think about the place of African American cultural production in relation to 'post–civil rights era' political discourse."—Valerie Smith, author of Toni Morrison: Writing the Moral Imagination

45 review for Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    A very compelling book! Tillet examines a series of post-civil rights works (mostly art) around slavery to understand the modern state of (African) American democracy. She is able to use art to show the failed promises of the movement and of American democratic ideals, while also recognizing the complications of some of the art itself (for example, in discussing heritage tourism she raised interesting tensions between the African Americans who visit former sites of slavery in Africa with the des A very compelling book! Tillet examines a series of post-civil rights works (mostly art) around slavery to understand the modern state of (African) American democracy. She is able to use art to show the failed promises of the movement and of American democratic ideals, while also recognizing the complications of some of the art itself (for example, in discussing heritage tourism she raised interesting tensions between the African Americans who visit former sites of slavery in Africa with the desires of current Senegalese and Ghanaian citizens).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Austin Martin

  3. 4 out of 5

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  4. 4 out of 5

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  5. 4 out of 5

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  6. 4 out of 5

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  7. 5 out of 5

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  8. 5 out of 5

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  9. 5 out of 5

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  11. 5 out of 5

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  14. 5 out of 5

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  16. 5 out of 5

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