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On Racial Icons

On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination

Nicole R. Fleetwood
Series: Pinpoints
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: DGO - Digital original
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 144
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  • Book Info
    On Racial Icons
    Book Description:

    What meaning does the American public attach to images of key black political, social, and cultural figures? Considering photography's role as a means of documenting historical progress, what is the representational currency of these images? How do racial icons "signify"?Nicole R. Fleetwood's answers to these questions will change the way you think about the next photograph that you see depicting a racial event, black celebrity, or public figure. InOn Racial Icons, Fleetwood focuses a sustained look on photography in documenting black public life, exploring the ways in which iconic images function as celebrations of national and racial progress at times or as a gauge of collective racial wounds in moments of crisis.Offering an overview of photography's ability to capture shifting race relations, Fleetwood spotlights in each chapter a different set of iconic images in key sectors of public life. She considers flash points of racialized violence in photographs of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till; the political, aesthetic, and cultural shifts marked by the rise of pop stars such as Diana Ross; and the power and precarity of such black sports icons as Serena Williams and LeBron James; and she does not miss Barack Obama and his family along the way.On Racial Iconsis an eye-opener in every sense of the phrase.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6513-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    From early on, I was aware that my experience of being a young black girl was one of living in relationship to images of blackness and black subjects that circulated broadly in the public sphere. As a child, I knew that I had no control over these images and how they were disseminated, but that many of my interactions in public spaces, with blacks and non-blacks, would be in conversation with these images. I also knew that those images, more often than not, presented a challenge to my existence, to being able to occupy space without expectation, deficit, or reaction....

  6. Chapter 1 “I Am Trayvon Martin”: The Boy Who Became an Icon
    (pp. 13-31)

    On Racial Iconstook shape in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy: his murder and the acquittal of his murderer, George Zimmerman. I was in the early stages of writing this book when Trayvon Martin was killed. Shortly after his death, public awareness of his murder spread internationally. I believe that it is important to preface this chapter with such a disclosure because my choice to include Martin touches on the stickier and more troubling aspects of racial iconicity: the interworkings of misfortune and opportunity, of terror and visibility, of injustice and hopefulness, of death and immortailty.

    In writing...

  7. Chapter 2 Democracy’s Promise: The Black Political Leader as Icon
    (pp. 32-54)

    In restaurants, on buildings, in homes, and in public sites across the country and around the globe, images of President Barack Obama as the manifestation of a long line of “great black leaders” proliferate. On a food cart in Harlem, Obama’s smiling face spans the border alongside the more austere portraits of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. On a gallery wall in Boston, a photorealistic painting by Ron English blends Obama’s face with a well-known stately portrait of Abraham Lincoln. The painting of Lincoln, the “great slave liberator,” and Obama, the son of a white American woman and...

  8. Chapter 3 Giving Face: Diana Ross and the Black Celebrity as Icon
    (pp. 55-80)

    Diana Ross once stated: “Icon. What is an icon? When someone is iconic it means they have established a certain kind of legacy possibly, and I think it does come with time…. I don’t think you are born an icon.” Her words restate a well-worn adage: one is not born a celebrity icon. Nor is one forced into the realm of celebrity iconicity as a matter of life or death (as many black political icons are). Instead, becoming a celebrity icon is a labor-intensive choice that involves sculpting one’s features, developing public recognition, building identification, and turning one’s one’s self...

  9. Chapter 4 The Black Athlete: Racial Precarity and the American Sports Icon
    (pp. 81-110)

    Perhaps there is no other sector of culture and commerce where the legacies and practices of chattel slavery are more explicitly invoked in the contemporary era than the lucrative and highly elite world of professional sports. From the ritual of the draft by which many athletes enter professional team sports to the periodic trade and the declining value of the aging body, the fundamental roots of racial capital are interwoven into the seemingly meritocratic and voluntary markets of athletics. As the vestiges of slavery cast a shadow on contemporary sports, commentary on the features, strengths, and weaknesses of the body...

  10. Coda
    (pp. 111-120)

    Throughout this book, I have considered the significance of black icons and racial iconicity in various sectors of American public life: politics, sports, popular music, and celebrity culture. As examined through various examples, the racial icon occupies a special place in the nation’s imaginary as a figuration and negotiation of U.S. racial history, the democratic promise of “our country,” and the ongoing struggles against racial injustice. Racial iconicity has served as a vibrational force—an affective energy—that leads to our valuation of the people we venerate and the devaluation of the lives of many others.

    The icon functions in...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 121-128)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 129-129)