Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Emery, Mary Lou
Third Committee Member
Curtius, Anny D
Fourth Committee Member
In my dissertation project, I engage in a discursive analysis of whiteness to examine how it influences postcolonial modes of self-styling. Critical whiteness studies often focuses on representations of whiteness in the West as well as on whiteness as physical—as white bodies and white people. I focus on representations and functions of whiteness outside of the West, particularly in relation to issues of belonging and modes of postcolonial identification. I examine Anglophone African literary representations of whiteness from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to query how whiteness both enables and undermines anticolonial consciousness. A central question I examine is, How does whiteness as a symbolic manifestation function to constitute postcolonial African identification? Scholarship on the topic of subjectivity and liberation needs to explicitly examine how whiteness intersects with key notions of modernity, such as race, class, progress, and self-determination. Through an examination of postcolonial African literary representations of whiteness, I aim to examine the aspirations, unpacked stereotypes, and fears that move us as readers and hail us as human subjects. Ultimately, through this work, I grapple with the question of identification, understood as the system of desires, judgments, images, and performances that constitute our experiences of being human. I begin by looking backward at the satirical play, “The Blinkards,” written in 1915 in the context of British colonization of the Gold Coast in West Africa (present-day Ghana), to develop an understanding of postcolonial identification that includes an examination of the artistic expression of a writer conceptualizing liberation through notions of cultural nationalism. I go on to examine a selection postcolonial African literatures to develop an understanding of how racialized socio-cultural realities constitute forms of self-hood in post-independence contexts.
I hope to use my argument about representations of whiteness in African literatures to open up questions fundamental to contemporary theories of identification in postcolonial contexts, as well as to make a philosophical argument about the ethics of whiteness as it undergirds transnational modes of modernity. One main point I make in relation to postcolonial theories of subjectivity is that notions of identification are tied up in local, regional, and global circuits of capital and cultural production. In chapter 2, I look at an early (Grain of Wheat 1967) and recent novel (Wizard of the Crow 2006) by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya), who locates African postcolonial subjectivity as deeply embedded in local traditions, myths, and storytelling circuits. By fluidly mixing the contexts of the local, the national, and the global, Ngũgĩ astutely challenges naturalized conventions that position black identities and blackness as always inferior to whiteness. Ngũgĩ represents postcolonial consciousness as a space whose local relationships are deeply informed by global structures of race, economics, and politics. Situating African postcolonial identification within global circuits of migration, capitalism, and colonialism, Ngũgĩ engages the pervasive significance of whiteness through representations of sickness and desire, suggesting that postcolonial identification is performed through beliefs and practices that are situated within a global racial hierarchy.
From there I go on to analyze a contemporary short story cycle by post-apartheid generation South African writer Siphiwo Mahala. Through his work, I continue to explore the issue of performative identification constituted through desire and aspirational notions in which whiteness works as a moving signifier of cultural and social capital. The main question I address in this chapter is, What is the meaning of whiteness in post-apartheid South Africa? Through this examination, I use my analysis of representations of whiteness to reflect on the politics of entanglement as a way to move beyond racialized and geographic modes of identification, to challenge conceptual boundaries that undergird modernity, and theoretical possibilities of a politics of entanglement in relation to broader issues of identification and belonging in postcolonial contexts.
African Literature, Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial Studies, postcolonial subjectivity, Theories of the Subject, Whiteness Studies
x, 203 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 197-203).
Copyright © 2015 Raquel Lisette Baker
Baker, Raquel Lisette. "Undoing Whiteness: postcolonial identity and the unfinished project of decolonization." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2015.