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"America—Disguising Hypocrisy as Democracy": Immigration and National Belonging in Contemporary Black Performance Poetry

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Abstract:

“Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history,” Oscar Handlin legendarily opened his The Uprooted sixty years ago. While nowadays Handlin’s observation hardly sounds like news to us, it nevertheless is timely in its reflection of the impact of the US nation as a discursive and political formation. It is also timely in its simultaneous portrayal of the US as an imagined community that is both on the inside and outside characterized by trans-national and trans-cultural border crossings and affiliations. It is, above all, timely in its establishment of tensions that, from today’s perspective, call for the critical voices of transnational American Studies—a tension between the national and the transnational; a tension between an attempt to overcome and the danger to at the same time echo exceptionalist agendas. It is exactly these tensions that characterize the art of contemporary black performance and slam poets such as Bassey Ikpi, Lynne Procope, Tshaka Campbell, or Bryonn Bain. As transnational first- or subsequent-generation migrants from various national origins (Nigeria, Trinidad, Jamaica), these poets utilize the potentials of the performance, i.e. its liminality and antistructure, to negotiate their relationship to the US nation:
Departing from a discussion of black immigrant performance poets’ portrayal of their connection to and disconnection from their cultural and national origins, this paper focuses on the dialectic that informs their perspective on the United States. On the one hand, these poets enact their belonging to the nation, value American master narratives, and demand the benefits of citizenship and participation. On the other hand, they present a critical view on the United States and attack various social and political pasts and presents from slavery to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from the racialization of immigrant/black Others to discriminatory incarceration. They highlight their belief in the socially and politically transformative power of artistic imagination when they fuse their performances with ‘real-life’ activism. This paper argues that these immigrant performers thereby resolve the seeming opposition between their own affiliation with and rejection of the United States; they unmask the contradiction as an attempt to performatively alter the socio-political dynamics of a nation (i.e. the United States) whose core ideologies they embrace.
Critically reflecting upon the transformative power of performance, this paper will finally juxtapose performance studies’ conceptual idea of the performativity of communities with the ambivalent representation of the US nation by black immigrant performance poets. It will reflect upon the performatively suggested image of the US as an (imagined) national community shaped by and based on transnational and transcultural dynamics, as a discursive formation created by, among others, black immigrants and their artistic negotiations of belonging.
*Title Quotation: Bryonn Bain; adapted.
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Association:
Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508579_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Bauridl, Birgit. ""America—Disguising Hypocrisy as Democracy": Immigration and National Belonging in Contemporary Black Performance Poetry" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508579_index.html>

APA Citation:

Bauridl, B. M. ""America—Disguising Hypocrisy as Democracy": Immigration and National Belonging in Contemporary Black Performance Poetry" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508579_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history,” Oscar Handlin legendarily opened his The Uprooted sixty years ago. While nowadays Handlin’s observation hardly sounds like news to us, it nevertheless is timely in its reflection of the impact of the US nation as a discursive and political formation. It is also timely in its simultaneous portrayal of the US as an imagined community that is both on the inside and outside characterized by trans-national and trans-cultural border crossings and affiliations. It is, above all, timely in its establishment of tensions that, from today’s perspective, call for the critical voices of transnational American Studies—a tension between the national and the transnational; a tension between an attempt to overcome and the danger to at the same time echo exceptionalist agendas. It is exactly these tensions that characterize the art of contemporary black performance and slam poets such as Bassey Ikpi, Lynne Procope, Tshaka Campbell, or Bryonn Bain. As transnational first- or subsequent-generation migrants from various national origins (Nigeria, Trinidad, Jamaica), these poets utilize the potentials of the performance, i.e. its liminality and antistructure, to negotiate their relationship to the US nation:
Departing from a discussion of black immigrant performance poets’ portrayal of their connection to and disconnection from their cultural and national origins, this paper focuses on the dialectic that informs their perspective on the United States. On the one hand, these poets enact their belonging to the nation, value American master narratives, and demand the benefits of citizenship and participation. On the other hand, they present a critical view on the United States and attack various social and political pasts and presents from slavery to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from the racialization of immigrant/black Others to discriminatory incarceration. They highlight their belief in the socially and politically transformative power of artistic imagination when they fuse their performances with ‘real-life’ activism. This paper argues that these immigrant performers thereby resolve the seeming opposition between their own affiliation with and rejection of the United States; they unmask the contradiction as an attempt to performatively alter the socio-political dynamics of a nation (i.e. the United States) whose core ideologies they embrace.
Critically reflecting upon the transformative power of performance, this paper will finally juxtapose performance studies’ conceptual idea of the performativity of communities with the ambivalent representation of the US nation by black immigrant performance poets. It will reflect upon the performatively suggested image of the US as an (imagined) national community shaped by and based on transnational and transcultural dynamics, as a discursive formation created by, among others, black immigrants and their artistic negotiations of belonging.
*Title Quotation: Bryonn Bain; adapted.


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Governing the National Self: Immigration, Membership, and Belonging in the National Minority State


 
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