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Black Bourgeois

Class and Sex in the Flesh

2019
Author:

Candice M. Jenkins

Black Bourgeois

Exploring the forces that keep black people vulnerable even amid economically privileged lives

With today’s repeated reminders of the vulnerability of African Americans to state and extralegal violence, Black Bourgeois considers the contradiction of privileged, presumably protected black bodies that remain racially vulnerable. Examining disruptions around race and class status in literature, Candice M. Jenkins demonstrates that the conflicted relation of the black subject to privilege is not, solely, a recent phenomenon.

Black Bourgeois will be the definitive study of literary images of the black middle class from the 1980s to our present moment. With stunning new insight, Candice M. Jenkins focuses on the vulnerability tied to black middle-class embodiment. This book adds new dimensions to the study of blackness and class by foregrounding the tension between the vulnerability of the black body and the ‘cover’ of material privilege. Jenkins exposes the forces that make black subjects remain vulnerable, socially and bodily, as they live ‘bourgeois’ lives.

Margo Natalie Crawford, author of Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics

At a moment in U.S. history with repeated reminders of the vulnerability of African Americans to state and extralegal violence, Black Bourgeois is the first book to consider the contradiction of privileged, presumably protected black bodies that nonetheless remain racially vulnerable. Examining disruptions around race and class status in literary texts, Candice M. Jenkins reminds us that the conflicted relation of the black subject to privilege is not, solely, a recent phenomenon.

Focusing on works by Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, Danzy Senna, Rebecca Walker, Reginald McKnight, Percival Everett, Colson Whitehead, and Michael Thomas, Jenkins shows that the seemingly abrupt discursive shift from post–Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter, from an emphasis on privilege and progress to an emphasis on vulnerability and precariousness, suggests a pendulum swing between two interrelated positions still in tension. By analyzing how these narratives stage the fraught interaction between the black and the bourgeois, Jenkins offers renewed attention to class as a framework for the study of black life—a necessary shift in an age of rapidly increasing income inequality and societal stratification.

Black Bourgeois thus challenges the assumed link between blackness and poverty that has become so ingrained in the United States, reminding us that privileged subjects, too, are “classed.” This book offers, finally, a rigorous and nuanced grasp of how African Americans live within complex, intersecting identities.
Black Bourgeois

Candice M. Jenkins is associate professor of English and African American studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is author of Private Lives, Proper Relations: Regulating Black Intimacy (Minnesota, 2007), which won the William Sanders Scarborough Prize of the Modern Language Association.

Black Bourgeois

Black Bourgeois will be the definitive study of literary images of the black middle class from the 1980s to our present moment. With stunning new insight, Candice M. Jenkins focuses on the vulnerability tied to black middle-class embodiment. This book adds new dimensions to the study of blackness and class by foregrounding the tension between the vulnerability of the black body and the ‘cover’ of material privilege. Jenkins exposes the forces that make black subjects remain vulnerable, socially and bodily, as they live ‘bourgeois’ lives.

Margo Natalie Crawford, author of Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics

Black Bourgeois brilliantly highlights how contemporary African American cultural producers render the conundrum faced by the black middle class as they negotiate the limits of class privilege and their own vulnerability within the U.S. racial hierarchy. In texts such as School Daze, Black Girl in Paris, and Queen Sugar, Candice M. Jenkins astutely tracks the ways that the black middle class figure, as an embodiment of a specific intersection of race and class, represents both the precarity and the promise of black life.

Lisa B. Thompson, author of Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class

Black Bourgeois

Contents

Preface

Introduction: The Black and Bourgeois Dilemma

1. New Bourgeoisie, Old Bodies: Performing Post–Civil Rights Black Privilege in Tar Baby and School Daze

2. “Half of Everything and Certain of Nothing”: Cultural Mulattoes and Racial Property in Black, White, and Jewish and Caucasia

3. Mapping Class: He Sleeps, Black Girl in Paris, and the Gendered Geography of Black Labor

4. Interiority, Anteriority, and the Art of Blackness: Erasure and the Post-racial Future

5. Flesh, Agency, Possibility: Social Death and the Limits of Progress in John Henry Days and Man Gone Down

Conclusion: Black and Bourgeois in the #BlackLivesMatter Era

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index