Black Nationalist Speculations: Empire, Gender, and Genre in 19th- and 20th-Century African American Literature

Simon, Samantha. Black Nationalist Speculations: Empire, Gender, and Genre in 19th- and 20th-Century African American Literature. 2019. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

"Black Nationalist Speculations: Empire, Gender, and Genre in 19th- and 20th-Century African American Literature" investigates black nationalist literature to trace how its imagined utopian spaces articulate a relationship between nationalism, imperialism, and domesticity. It situates the emergence of this literature historically, focusing on writing from the mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth centuries. It argues that this historical moment is integral to investigations of black nationalism because of how black thinkers during this period began to think through the relationship between racism at home and U.S. foreign policy abroad. Indeed, at the same time that racial violence within the U.S. reached a height at the dawn of U.S. abolition and following the Federal regulation of Jim Crow in 1896, U.S. empire was simultaneously expanding into the Caribbean and the Pacific. This political and economic expansion was a major factor in how black intellectual thinkers in the United States were able to speculate about freedom beyond U.S. borders. As they began to articulate racial oppression as a transnational hegemonic structure, they both influenced, and were influenced by, anti-colonial resistance movements in these colonized spaces. As such, this project argues that turn of the century black nationalism was both made possible and influenced by the expansion of U.S. Empires.

Because the texts in this archive speculate about the establishment of independent, black nations, they are often taken up by critical utopian studies, a subset of science fiction studies. Science fiction scholars have argued that this type of speculative literature serves as the precursor to what would later come to be recognized as science fiction. Across its four chapters, this dissertation intervenes into these conversations by situating gender as central to the problems that arise in the nationalist formations represented in these utopian worlds. Rather than arguing for their inclusion into the science fiction canon, it uses feminist critiques of the nation to argue that the texts’ inability to reconcile the relationship between nationalism and domesticity leads to the inevitable failure of otherwise revolutionary spaces. The texts in this dissertation’s archive represent varying forms of the “nation,” at times imagining spaces with definitive political boundaries, and at others thinking about the role of the “nation” as marking racial identity, whether through internationalism, transnationalism, or Pan-Africanism. Regardless of the form of nationalism represented in the texts, however, this project reveals the difficulty of disarticulating nationalism from the bourgeois institutions that necessarily remain a part of it. By bringing together sf studies and feminist critiques of the nation, this project envisions a new way of thinking about the centrality of heteropatriarchy to the nation-form. Simultaneously, it problematizes our understanding of speculative fiction by emphasizing the gendered exclusions that arise as these thinkers work to speculate about alternative nation forms.

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