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Published by Yamil Assi
Feminism
Feminism

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Published by: Yamil Assi on Dec 06, 2012
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05/08/2015

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Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist InterpretationAuthor(s): Elizabeth AbelSource:
Critical Inquiry,
Vol. 19, No. 3 (Spring, 1993), pp. 470-498Published by: The University of Chicago PressStable URL:
Accessed: 11/01/2009 02:41
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BlackWriting,WhiteReading:Raceand ttiePoliticsof FeministInterpretationElizabethAbel
I realizethatthesetoffeelingsthatIusedtohaveabout FrenchmenInowhave aboutAfrican-American women. Those are thepeopleIfeelinadequateinrelation to andtrytopleaseinmy writing.Itstrikesmethat thisisnotjustidiosyncratic.
-JANE
GALLOP,"CriticizingFeminist Criticism"
Twylaopensthenarrativeof Toni Morrison'sprovocative story"Recitatif"(1982)byrecallingherplacementas aneight-year-oldchildinSt.Bonaventure,ashelter forneglectedchildren,and herreactiontoRobertaFisk,the roommate she isassigned:"TheminuteIwalkedin ... Igotsick tomystomach. It wasonethingtobetakenout ofyourown bedearlyinthemorning-itwassomethingelse to be stuckinastrange placewith agirlfroma whole other race.AndMary,that'smymother,she wasright. Everynow and then she wouldstopdancing longenoughto tell mesomething importantand one ofthethingsshesaid wasthattheyneverwashedtheir hair andtheysmelledfunny.Roberta suredid.Smellfunny,Imean."'Theracialambiguitysodeftlyinstalledatthe narrative'sorigin
1. ToniMorrison,"Recitatif,"inConfirmation:AnAnthologyof AfricanAmericanWomen,ed. AmiriBaraka(LeRoiJones)and Amina Baraka(NewYork,1983),p.243;hereafterabbreviated "R."Iamdeeplyindebtedto LulaFragdforbringingthisstorytomyattentionand toToni Morrison forgenerously discussingitwithme. I am alsoverygratefultoMargaretHomans forsharingwith meanearlydraftof"'RacialComposition': Metaphor
CriticalInquiry19(Spring1993)
?
1993byTheUniversityofChicago.0093-1896/93/1903-0001$01.00.Allrightsreserved.
470
 
Spring1993471throughcodesthat functionsymmetricallyforblack women and for whitewomen("theynever washed their hair andtheysmelledfunny")intensifiesasthestorytracks the encountersof its two femaleprotagonistsoverapproximatelythirty years.Unmediatedbythesexualtriangulations(thepredationsofwhitemen on blackwomen,thesusceptibilityofblack mento whitewomen)thathave dominatedblackwomen's narrativerepresen-tationsof women'sfraughtconnectionsacrossraciallines,therelationshipofTwylaand Robertadisclosestheoperationsofraceinthe feminine.2This is astoryabout a black woman andawhitewoman;but which iswhich?Iwas introduced to "Recitatif"bya blackfeministcritic,LulaFragd.Lula was certain thatTwylawasblack;Iwasequallyconvincedthat shewaswhite;most of the readers we summoned to resolve thedisputedividedsimilarly alongracial lines.Byreplacingthe conventionalsignifiersof racial difference(suchas skincolor)withradicallyrelativisticones(suchas who smellsfunnytowhom)andbysubstitutingfortheracial-izedbodyaseriesofdisaggregatedculturalparts-pink-scallopedsocks,tightgreenslacks,largehoop earrings,expertiseatplayingjacks,a tasteforJimiHendrixor for bottled water andasparagus-thestoryrendersrace acontestedterrainvariously mappedfrom diversepositionsinthe
andBodyintheWritingofRace,"whichbecame central tomy thinkingonwritingandrace;andtoJanetAdelman,John Bishop,MitchellBreitwieser,CarolynDinshaw,CatherineGallagher,AnneGoldman,CrystalGromer,DoriHale,SaidiyaHartman,MarianneHirsch,TaniaModleski,HeleneMoglen,MichaelRogin,DianneSadoff,SusanSchweik,ValerieSmith,HortenseSpillers,andJeanWyattfor theirhelpfulcommentsonthisessay.2.The interventionofwhite meninrelationshipsbetween black and white women isrepeatedlyrepresentedinslavenarratives,bestepitomized perhapsbyHarrietJacobs,Inci-dents in theLife ofa Slave Girl:WrittenbyHerself(1861);theinterventionofwhite womeninblack heterosexualrelationshipsis mostfullyexploredinthe civilrightsfictiontypified byAliceWalker,Meridian(1976).For astudyofAmericanliteraryrepresentationsofthe rela-tionshipsbetween blackandwhite womeninthenineteenth-centurySouth,seeMinrose C.Gwin,Black and WhiteWomenoftheOld South:ThePeculiar SisterhoodnAmerican Literature(Knoxville,Tenn.,1985);for anoptimisticcharacterizationofinterracial female friend-shipsinrecentAmerican women'sfiction,see ElizabethSchultz,"Out oftheWoods andintotheWorld: AStudyof InterracialFriendshipsbetweenWomenin AmericanNovels,"inConjuring:BlackWomen,Fiction,andLiteraryTradition,ed.MarjoriePryseandHortenseJ.Spillers(Bloomington,Ind.,1985),pp.67-85.
Elizabeth Abel is associateprofessorofEnglishat theUniversityofCalifornia,Berkeley;the authorofVirginiaWoolfand the FictionsofPsycho-analysis(1989);theeditorofWritingandSexualDifference(1982);and thecoeditorofTheSignsReader:Women,Gender,andScholarship(1983)andTheVoyagen:FictionsofFemaleDevelopment(1983).CriticalInquiry

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