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Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership

Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership

Erica R. Edwards
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership
    Book Description:

    Social and political change is impossible in the absence of gifted male charismatic leadership—this is the fiction that shaped African American culture throughout the twentieth century. If we understand this, Erica R. Edwards tells us, we will better appreciate the dramatic variations within both the modern black freedom struggle and the black literary tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8022-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    It was in the immediate wake of destruction, loss, and dispossession wrought by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina that performing and recording artist Erykah Badu stopped the clock on the progress of black public protest. Called to stage to sing her own “Time’s a Wastin” at a televised rally organized by the Millions More Movement to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March, Badu interrupted her scripted performance and staged what performance theorist Diana Taylor callsun relajo,“an act with an attitude.”¹ At her cue to sing, she instructed the band to “hold on,” then launched into a recasting...

  4. Part I Charisma

    • Chapter 1 Restaging the Charismatic Scenario Fictions of African American Leadership
      (pp. 3-34)

      A sustained engagement with the multifarious experiences, perspectives, movements, stories, and players that make up the contemporary history of black American movements for social change and political progress requires both historicizing and disposing of the fiction that social transformation is impossible in the absence of singular charismatic leadership. Charisma is a political fiction or ideal, a set of assumptions about authority and identity that works to structure how political mobilization is conceived and enacted. This fiction is staged in real time and in media playback: its narrative thread is woven into the fabric of what might be called thecharismatic...

    • Chapter 2 Leadership’s Looks The Aesthetics of Black Political Modernity
      (pp. 35-74)

      When literary critic henry louis gates Jr. lamented that that black Americans could not seem to “agree on what leadership should look like” as the twentieth century neared its close, he signaled a century-long anxiety about how race men would look while representing the race.¹ In the transition from slavery to freedom, charismatic leadership came to occupy the central site of freedom’s experimental expressions. By the post-Reconstruction period, the various forms of black leadership—religious, intellectual, social, and political—continued to be haunted by, first, a putatively premodern form of leadership most accurately namedcharisma,and, second, by the final...

  5. Part II Contestations

    • Chapter 3 Moses, Monster of the Mountain Gendered Violence in Zora Neale Hurston’s Gothic
      (pp. 77-104)

      One of the most compelling fictions of twentieth-century black political culture is the fantasy of charismatic leadership, the idea that political advancement is best achieved under the direction of a single male leader believed to be gifted with a privileged connection to the divine. When leadership is structured around a charismatic aesthetic, it is often a male presence that bears—or at least is believed ought to bear—the single gift of grace. In that scenario, political desire that runs counter to the passage of authority from God to a masculine presence to followers is rendered abject, dangerous, and murderous...

    • Chapter 4 Disappearing the Leader The Vanishing Spectacle in Civil Rights Fiction
      (pp. 105-132)

      In a chilling scene at the end of William Melvin Kelley’s 1962 novel,A Different Drummer,a slick Northern preacher is forced to sing and dance for a mob of white men who have decided that the black residents of their Southern town who have followed the silent, puzzling actions of a quiet, boyish twenty-two-year-old and left the town empty of its black labor force were unduly influenced by the outside agitating preacher. Deciding that Reverend Bradshaw must pay the price for the blacks’ resistance by acting out a spectacle of minstrelsy for their viewing pleasure, the mob goes on...

  6. Part III Curiosities

    • Chapter 5 “Cyanide in the Kool-Aid” Black Politics and Popular Culture after Civil Rights
      (pp. 135-166)

      The story of the african american freedom struggle most often invoked in contemporary popular, mass-mediated accounts of the civil rights movement features a series of charismatic spectacles that build on the ancient symbology of the Exodus myth, the cultural repertoire of black political modernity, and the news reporting of post–World War II black protest. In these scenes, extraordinary and divinely ordained ministers and political spokesmen deliver rousing orations that inspire marchers to march and singers to sing, as well as moral, social, and political transformation to happen while followers, either silently, with shouts of assent, or with songs of...

    • Chapter 6 Claim Ticket Lost Toni Morrison’s Paradise and African American Literature’s Holy Hollow
      (pp. 167-186)

      Days after hurricane katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast in September 2005, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dispossessed as the scenes of New Orleans under water captured television sets and newspaper headlines, I was having a conversation about the “active abandonment” of black New Orleanians with a young pastor of a mostly African American church in Durham, North Carolina.¹ She looked at me with a pastoral mix of exasperation, exhaustion, and righteous indignation, and asked, “Where are the ‘black leaders’ now?”—a question perhaps being uttered by many who sat watching the mostly brown and black lives and communities...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 187-194)

    When oprah winfrey, charismatic in her own right, officially joined the campaign for Barack Obama’s presidential bid in December 2007, she made back-to-back appearances in Des Moines, Iowa, and Columbia, South Carolina, lending her formidable cultural authority to electoral politics—as she called it, “stepping out of her pew”—for the first time in her decades-long career. As Winfrey appeared before a record-number South Carolina audience that weekend, she set in motion a series of reversals—from the Midwest to her childhood home down South, from polished, unaccented, journalistic American diction to the sanctified elocution of a well-churched black Southerner...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 195-198)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 199-232)
  10. Index
    (pp. 233-249)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 250-250)