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Black Presidents Past: An American Fantasia

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Abstract:

Since the early days of Barack Obama’s ascendance as a major candidate for his Party’s nomination, the image of Obama has been subject to the contradictory mediations of two ostensibly antipodal discourses of racialization. On the one hand, his nomination for and election to the presidency in the 2008 election is popularly understood as the apotheosis of American racial transcendence, marking the arrival of a so-called “post-racial” era in national life; in this same era, the now-iconic image of this president has become a lodestone for racially inflected caricature and invective within the visual archive of an extensive conservative opposition movement. Yet these two divergent discourses—one, a narrative about the end of “race” in American history; the other, the hypostatization of the first “racially marked” president toward new articulations of an old racial tropology—in fact intersect as the former serves as an alibi for the latter, the claim of a post-racial era (of which the election of an African American president is irrefutable proof) obviating any charge that conservative criticism of the president might be racially motivated.

Rather than focus on the media archive of the Obama candidacy and presidency, this paper takes an oblique angle of analysis, examining these tensions through the formative context of the fictional “Black presidents” from in U.S. popular culture since the early twentieth-century, depictions in which the election of the first African American president generally serves as a trope for the national future. Drawing on cultural theories of the symbolic role of the body of the American president in U.S. national culture, I argue that the fantasies and anxieties this archive depicts and which invest with deep ambivalence even the most seemingly progressive of these images persist within the discursive production of “the Black presidency” that has followed on Obama’s historic election. The center of my presentation is an overview of the history of such representations and I examine two sketch performances by Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle in particular. The comedians individually portray Black presidents in terms that, rather than expanding this archive of a now-historical American future, acutely signify on its racial politics.


Rather than focus on the media archive of the Obama candidacy and presidency, this paper takes an oblique angle of analysis, examining these tensions through the formative context of the fictional “Black presidents” from in U.S. popular culture since the early twentieth-century, depictions in which the election of the first African American president generally serves as a trope for the national future. Drawing on cultural theories of the symbolic role of the body of the American president in U.S. national culture, I argue that the fantasies and anxieties this archive depicts and which invest with deep ambivalence even the most seemingly progressive of these images persist within the discursive production of “the Black presidency” that has followed on Obama’s historic election. The center of my presentation is an overview of the history of such representations and I examine two sketch performances by Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle in particular. The comedians individually portray Black presidents in terms that, rather than expanding this archive of a now-historical American future, acutely signify on its racial politics.
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MLA Citation:

Osucha, Eden. "Black Presidents Past: An American Fantasia" 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/p509715_index.html>

APA Citation:

Osucha, E. "Black Presidents Past: An American Fantasia" 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/p509715_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: Since the early days of Barack Obama’s ascendance as a major candidate for his Party’s nomination, the image of Obama has been subject to the contradictory mediations of two ostensibly antipodal discourses of racialization. On the one hand, his nomination for and election to the presidency in the 2008 election is popularly understood as the apotheosis of American racial transcendence, marking the arrival of a so-called “post-racial” era in national life; in this same era, the now-iconic image of this president has become a lodestone for racially inflected caricature and invective within the visual archive of an extensive conservative opposition movement. Yet these two divergent discourses—one, a narrative about the end of “race” in American history; the other, the hypostatization of the first “racially marked” president toward new articulations of an old racial tropology—in fact intersect as the former serves as an alibi for the latter, the claim of a post-racial era (of which the election of an African American president is irrefutable proof) obviating any charge that conservative criticism of the president might be racially motivated.

Rather than focus on the media archive of the Obama candidacy and presidency, this paper takes an oblique angle of analysis, examining these tensions through the formative context of the fictional “Black presidents” from in U.S. popular culture since the early twentieth-century, depictions in which the election of the first African American president generally serves as a trope for the national future. Drawing on cultural theories of the symbolic role of the body of the American president in U.S. national culture, I argue that the fantasies and anxieties this archive depicts and which invest with deep ambivalence even the most seemingly progressive of these images persist within the discursive production of “the Black presidency” that has followed on Obama’s historic election. The center of my presentation is an overview of the history of such representations and I examine two sketch performances by Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle in particular. The comedians individually portray Black presidents in terms that, rather than expanding this archive of a now-historical American future, acutely signify on its racial politics.


Rather than focus on the media archive of the Obama candidacy and presidency, this paper takes an oblique angle of analysis, examining these tensions through the formative context of the fictional “Black presidents” from in U.S. popular culture since the early twentieth-century, depictions in which the election of the first African American president generally serves as a trope for the national future. Drawing on cultural theories of the symbolic role of the body of the American president in U.S. national culture, I argue that the fantasies and anxieties this archive depicts and which invest with deep ambivalence even the most seemingly progressive of these images persist within the discursive production of “the Black presidency” that has followed on Obama’s historic election. The center of my presentation is an overview of the history of such representations and I examine two sketch performances by Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle in particular. The comedians individually portray Black presidents in terms that, rather than expanding this archive of a now-historical American future, acutely signify on its racial politics.


Similar Titles:
“We Ain’t Ready to See a Black President”: Barack Obama and Post-racialism in American Society

Viewing against the Literature: The Portrayal of African American College Presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Mainstream Film

An American Paradox: The Change that Change Made, President Obama’s Agenda for the Black Middle Class


 
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