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A central premise of this project is that Black female identity has historically been seen as a fixed identity. Much of the imposed rigidity on Black female identity has been informed by conservative strategies for survival. Such conservative strategies include respectability politics, as racial leaders have found utility in upholding the principle that if they or others work hard, they can uphold the race. Only by maintaining these standards of respectability have Black women been deemed as worthy and able to uphold and reinforce positive images of Blackness. Many of the stories written by Black women generally fall into the limited tropes of respectability and struggle. Additionally, Black women’s autobiographies often mirror each other given certain parallels in their experience. However, my thesis aims to illuminate a divergent consciousness among Black women writers through their autobiographies. With this divergent consciousness, these writers interrogate the politics of respectability and create new possibilities for Black female identity as I will explore throughout this thesis.
In Chapter I, I study Hurston’s memoir, Dust Tracks on a Road, in order to affirm the work that she did as a Black woman and writer, especially while taking into account the waves of criticism that she endured throughout her professional life. In Chapter II, I explore Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name as her narrative of sexuality and a shared girlhood builds on the experiences that Hurston conveys in Dust Tracks. In Chapter III, I consider the concept of the “angry Black woman” as explored in Brittney Cooper’s memoir, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. Indeed, I will use various key personas for each of these writers as frameworks and lenses for examining their autobiographical writing. These personas include “cosmic Zora,” “sister outsider,” “the angry Black woman,” and the Black woman in process as advanced in Michelle Obama’s recent memoir, Becoming, which I will place in dialogue with Cooper’s work in the third chapter of the thesis.
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Duncan, Christina L., "Becoming Ourselves: Black Women’s Autobiographical Interrogation of Tropes of Identity" (2019). Senior Projects Spring 2019. 58.