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In Our Own Words: Negotiating Dialectics of Shame and Pride in Black Men’s Military Narratives

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Abstract:

This paper juxtaposes the relationships to U.S. history that my grandfather and his cousin experienced through military service. My grandfather, Major Gilbert A. Boothe, was an officer in the U.S. Army 24th Infantry Regiment, an infamously troubled “colored” unit. His cousin, Mack Gilbert (Uncle Mack), was a Tuskegee Airman. Using a variety of correspondence—letters, government documents and newspaper articles—that were circulating among my grandfather and soldiers in the 92d infantry between 1981 and 1982 and a 2011 interview I conducted with Uncle Mack, I analyze the dialectic of pride and shame that emerges in their narratives. My grandfather’s collection of correspondence culminated in a published monograph (McFarland P 1985), yet he neither spoke about his military experiences nor the project. It was a private story shrouded by the pain of racism that denied him true citizenship in spite of his exceptional patriotism. His cousin, in contrast, is vocal about his military experience. Unlike my grandfather who lied about his age to voluntarily enlist in the military a year early, Uncle Mack left Howard U. and joined the military by force.

I consider the nation’s relatively recent performances celebrating the Tuskegee Airmen, juxtaposing that to the prevailing silence around how “everyday” black men—black men who are not locked up or unemployed—negotiate the failed promises of U.S. democratic ideals through acts that disrupt hegemonic historical narratives. The stories that unravel through the unofficial archives of these men are not exceptional—many others can and have told similar stories—but the stories so rarely enter the public sphere, they are not the stories that compose and shape the narratives that persistently define black men as deviant, lazy, and a burden to society. The phenomenon of both hegemonic and subaltern silence presents a paradox that I theorize through the lenses of fantasy and imagination. I frame the archival stories I retrieve with Quentin Tarantino’s recent film Django in order to think about how a white man’s fantasies might be the only forum for expressing black men’s shame. In an interview with Henry Louis Gates, Tarantino discusses a film that would be the third installment in his “trilogy” (Inglorius Basterds and Django) that is set in 1944 after Normandy when a group of black troops exact revenge against white soldiers and officers, killing them. The “fragging” Tarantino describes became more widespread during the Vietnam War, but fragging and desertion was one of the “problems” that labeled my grandfather’s unit “troubled” and “unreliable” during the Korean War. Thus, I will analyze why there is a cultural space for receiving and embracing Tarantino’s representations of redeemed black manhood in Django and potentially in his third installment, yet so few opportunities for black men to construct narratives of heroism and vindication instead of relegating those stories to the private sphere and spaces of silence shrouded in shame and pain.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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MLA Citation:

Drake, Simone. "In Our Own Words: Negotiating Dialectics of Shame and Pride in Black Men’s Military Narratives" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC, <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p655673_index.html>

APA Citation:

Drake, S. "In Our Own Words: Negotiating Dialectics of Shame and Pride in Black Men’s Military Narratives" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p655673_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: This paper juxtaposes the relationships to U.S. history that my grandfather and his cousin experienced through military service. My grandfather, Major Gilbert A. Boothe, was an officer in the U.S. Army 24th Infantry Regiment, an infamously troubled “colored” unit. His cousin, Mack Gilbert (Uncle Mack), was a Tuskegee Airman. Using a variety of correspondence—letters, government documents and newspaper articles—that were circulating among my grandfather and soldiers in the 92d infantry between 1981 and 1982 and a 2011 interview I conducted with Uncle Mack, I analyze the dialectic of pride and shame that emerges in their narratives. My grandfather’s collection of correspondence culminated in a published monograph (McFarland P 1985), yet he neither spoke about his military experiences nor the project. It was a private story shrouded by the pain of racism that denied him true citizenship in spite of his exceptional patriotism. His cousin, in contrast, is vocal about his military experience. Unlike my grandfather who lied about his age to voluntarily enlist in the military a year early, Uncle Mack left Howard U. and joined the military by force.

I consider the nation’s relatively recent performances celebrating the Tuskegee Airmen, juxtaposing that to the prevailing silence around how “everyday” black men—black men who are not locked up or unemployed—negotiate the failed promises of U.S. democratic ideals through acts that disrupt hegemonic historical narratives. The stories that unravel through the unofficial archives of these men are not exceptional—many others can and have told similar stories—but the stories so rarely enter the public sphere, they are not the stories that compose and shape the narratives that persistently define black men as deviant, lazy, and a burden to society. The phenomenon of both hegemonic and subaltern silence presents a paradox that I theorize through the lenses of fantasy and imagination. I frame the archival stories I retrieve with Quentin Tarantino’s recent film Django in order to think about how a white man’s fantasies might be the only forum for expressing black men’s shame. In an interview with Henry Louis Gates, Tarantino discusses a film that would be the third installment in his “trilogy” (Inglorius Basterds and Django) that is set in 1944 after Normandy when a group of black troops exact revenge against white soldiers and officers, killing them. The “fragging” Tarantino describes became more widespread during the Vietnam War, but fragging and desertion was one of the “problems” that labeled my grandfather’s unit “troubled” and “unreliable” during the Korean War. Thus, I will analyze why there is a cultural space for receiving and embracing Tarantino’s representations of redeemed black manhood in Django and potentially in his third installment, yet so few opportunities for black men to construct narratives of heroism and vindication instead of relegating those stories to the private sphere and spaces of silence shrouded in shame and pain.


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Immense Pride and Intense Frustration: Structural Dialectics in Contemporary Military Nursing


 
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