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"'It’s Just Dark Outside' : Kym Ragusa’s Memoirs of White Flight"

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Abstract:

The experimental documentary fuori/outside (1997) records the experiences of videomaker Kym Ragusa growing up in the Bronx and then Maplewood, NJ, as the child of an Italian American father and black mother. Ragusa’s work, in prose and video, experiments with memoir as in order to produce an alternative archive for urban history and U.S. race and ethnic formations. In particular, her work charts the emergence of a “white ethnic,” a peculiarly American identity arising from a complex history of migrations, displacements, and contestations of space. For Ragusa, movement itself (re)forms identity. Complicating familiar mythologies of immigration, Ragusa looks at Ellis Island as a very preliminary (and incidental) passage toward Americanization, focusing more critically on Italian American settlement in Harlem, then the Bronx, and finally the "white flight" to the suburbs. Cultural citizenship remains elusive, occasioning a series of migrations that never quite land Ragusa’s immigrant inside America. She documents “white flight” as a flight to whiteness, an assimilation of whiteness embarked upon by her Southern Italian relatives. Remarkably, she too forms part of that "white flight”; her Italian relatives forget her blackness, enacting an amnesia that is a violent prerequisite to nationalism. The movement from urban to suburban space consolidates or reconstitutes various nationalisms: American, Italian American, Italian. Acquisition of whiteness, projected through suburban homeownership, provides Ragusa’s subjects the foundation for multiple claims to national belonging, bringing them not only inside America but also inside whiteness.
But where does this leave the fact of Ragusa’s blackness? In her essay, “Sangu Du Sangu Meu: Growing Up Black and Italian in a Time of White Flight” (2003), she records her family’s dissociations from her racial identity. As a fifteen-year-old, she joins her Italian American grandmother watching from the window as white neighbors pack their belongings into a moving truck: “…they were leaving, and my grandmother was terrified. I could see the panic in her eyes, I could feel her sense of abandonment….I asked her who the new neighbors would be; she didn’t know, but she told me that she hoped they were white.” The safety that her “white ethnic” family associates with suburbia and homeownership will not extend to Ragusa. In her videomaking and writing both, Ragusa uses the window as metaphor for these slippery equations of danger and safety, belonging and abjection, inside and out. The window functions as membrane, skin -- yet she demonstrates also with this same metaphor how a strictly applied theory of the “epidermal schema” cannot account for the vicious interiority of race. Ragusa exploits the varying transparency and opaqueness of the window, as light shifts, as the camera itself shifts from inside to out. The formal manipulation of light, reflection, and transparency enabled by the window convey metaphorically – while also framing narratively – the ambivalences of identity. The virgule in the title, “fuori/outside,” indicates both grammatically and visually the tenuousness of national (and familial) belonging. Ragusa’s work in fact never allows for an easy designation of inside and out.
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Perez, Hiram. ""'It’s Just Dark Outside' : Kym Ragusa’s Memoirs of White Flight"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p105770_index.html>

APA Citation:

Perez, H. ""'It’s Just Dark Outside' : Kym Ragusa’s Memoirs of White Flight"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p105770_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: The experimental documentary fuori/outside (1997) records the experiences of videomaker Kym Ragusa growing up in the Bronx and then Maplewood, NJ, as the child of an Italian American father and black mother. Ragusa’s work, in prose and video, experiments with memoir as in order to produce an alternative archive for urban history and U.S. race and ethnic formations. In particular, her work charts the emergence of a “white ethnic,” a peculiarly American identity arising from a complex history of migrations, displacements, and contestations of space. For Ragusa, movement itself (re)forms identity. Complicating familiar mythologies of immigration, Ragusa looks at Ellis Island as a very preliminary (and incidental) passage toward Americanization, focusing more critically on Italian American settlement in Harlem, then the Bronx, and finally the "white flight" to the suburbs. Cultural citizenship remains elusive, occasioning a series of migrations that never quite land Ragusa’s immigrant inside America. She documents “white flight” as a flight to whiteness, an assimilation of whiteness embarked upon by her Southern Italian relatives. Remarkably, she too forms part of that "white flight”; her Italian relatives forget her blackness, enacting an amnesia that is a violent prerequisite to nationalism. The movement from urban to suburban space consolidates or reconstitutes various nationalisms: American, Italian American, Italian. Acquisition of whiteness, projected through suburban homeownership, provides Ragusa’s subjects the foundation for multiple claims to national belonging, bringing them not only inside America but also inside whiteness.
But where does this leave the fact of Ragusa’s blackness? In her essay, “Sangu Du Sangu Meu: Growing Up Black and Italian in a Time of White Flight” (2003), she records her family’s dissociations from her racial identity. As a fifteen-year-old, she joins her Italian American grandmother watching from the window as white neighbors pack their belongings into a moving truck: “…they were leaving, and my grandmother was terrified. I could see the panic in her eyes, I could feel her sense of abandonment….I asked her who the new neighbors would be; she didn’t know, but she told me that she hoped they were white.” The safety that her “white ethnic” family associates with suburbia and homeownership will not extend to Ragusa. In her videomaking and writing both, Ragusa uses the window as metaphor for these slippery equations of danger and safety, belonging and abjection, inside and out. The window functions as membrane, skin -- yet she demonstrates also with this same metaphor how a strictly applied theory of the “epidermal schema” cannot account for the vicious interiority of race. Ragusa exploits the varying transparency and opaqueness of the window, as light shifts, as the camera itself shifts from inside to out. The formal manipulation of light, reflection, and transparency enabled by the window convey metaphorically – while also framing narratively – the ambivalences of identity. The virgule in the title, “fuori/outside,” indicates both grammatically and visually the tenuousness of national (and familial) belonging. Ragusa’s work in fact never allows for an easy designation of inside and out.

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Similar Titles:
White Flight, White Inmigration, and Stable Diversity: Race in America’s Urban Neighborhoods, 1990 to 2000

White Flight, Neighborhood Racial Transitions, and Changes in Black-White Segregation, 1970-2000


 
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