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Aberrations in Black

Toward a Queer of Color Critique

2003
Author:

Roderick A. Ferguson

Aberrations in Black

A hard-hitting look at the regulation of sexual difference and its role in circumscribing African American culture

The sociology of race relations in America typically describes an intersection of poverty, race, and economic discrimination. But what is missing from the picture—sexual difference—can be as instructive as what is present. In this ambitious work, Roderick A. Ferguson reveals how the discourses of sexuality are used to articulate theories of racial difference in the field of sociology.

A stunning and compelling critique—the next step in queer studies, the first step in a comprehensive reconfiguring of existing paradigms, from canonical sociology to capital; from heteronormativity to heteropatriarchy. Ferguson’s restoration of the lost chapter of Ellison’s Invisible Man as well as his other readings will make this study one of the memorable ones.

Sharon P. Holland, University of Illinois at Chicago

The sociology of race relations in America typically describes an intersection of poverty, race, and economic discrimination. But what is missing from the picture—sexual difference—can be as instructive as what is present. In this ambitious work, Roderick A. Ferguson reveals how the discourses of sexuality are used to articulate theories of racial difference in the field of sociology. He shows how canonical sociology—Gunnar Myrdal, Ernest Burgess, Robert Park, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and William Julius Wilson—has measured African Americans’s unsuitability for a liberal capitalist order in terms of their adherence to the norms of a heterosexual and patriarchal nuclear family model. In short, to the extent that African Americans’s culture and behavior deviated from those norms, they would not achieve economic and racial equality.

Aberrations in Black tells the story of canonical sociology’s regulation of sexual difference as part of its general regulation of African American culture. Ferguson places this story within other stories—the narrative of capital’s emergence and development, the histories of Marxism and revolutionary nationalism, and the novels that depict the gendered and sexual idiosyncrasies of African American culture—works by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Toni Morrison. In turn, this book tries to present another story—one in which people who presumably manifest the dysfunctions of capitalism are reconsidered as indictments of the norms of state, capital, and social science. Ferguson includes the first-ever discussion of a new archival discovery—a never-published chapter of Invisible Man that deals with a gay character in a way that complicates and illuminates Ellison’s project.

Unique in the way it situates critiques of race, gender, and sexuality within analyses of cultural, economic, and epistemological formations, Ferguson’s work introduces a new mode of discourse—which Ferguson calls queer of color analysis—that helps to lay bare the mutual distortions of racial, economic, and sexual portrayals within sociology.

Aberrations in Black

Roderick A. Ferguson is assistant professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota.

Aberrations in Black

A stunning and compelling critique—the next step in queer studies, the first step in a comprehensive reconfiguring of existing paradigms, from canonical sociology to capital; from heteronormativity to heteropatriarchy. Ferguson’s restoration of the lost chapter of Ellison’s Invisible Man as well as his other readings will make this study one of the memorable ones.

Sharon P. Holland, University of Illinois at Chicago

This challenging, refreshing, and hopeful book is one of the most captivating readings of classic texts in sociology and African American literature. Ferguson provides an original analysis of the production of differences and the use of those differences as the basis for marginalizing and regulating black nonheteronormativity.

Herman Gray, University of California at Santa Cruz

Aberrations in Black is a significant contribution to ‘queer of color critique’ and to black cultural studies more generally.

Black Cultural Studies

Intelligent and cogent critiques. Wonderfully intoxicating readings of canonical sociology. Those interested in engaging how fictions of heterosexuality are transformed into pragmatic policy or in how crucial an understanding of racial discourses is to an understanding of queerness in American life will find Ferguson’s study indispensable.

American Literature

A thought provoking experience. Ferguson offers insight into the idea of ‘normal’ and provides deeper study into queer theory, Marxism, feminist theory, and African American criticism and how they all intersect.

Altar magazine

Unapologetically interdisciplinary, thoroughly historicized, and effortlessly theoretical, Aberrations is a refreshing polemic that disrupts some of our comfortably held scholarly grand narratives.

Journal of the History of Sexuality

Aberrations in Black represents an impressive scholarly debut by one of the leading young minds in the profession.

Journal of the History of Sexuality

Aberrations in Black

Contents

Preface

Introduction: Queer of Color Critique, Historical Materialism, and Canonical Sociology

1. The Knee-pants of Servility: American Modernity, the Chicago School, and Native Son
2. The Specter of Woodridge: Canonical Formations and the Anticanonical in Invisible Man
3. Nightmares of the Heteronormative: Go Tell It on the Mountain versus An American Dilemma
4. Something Else to Be: Sula, The Moynihan Report, and the Negations of Black Lesbian Feminism

Conclusion: Toward the End of Normativity

Notes

Index