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Exodus Politics

Exodus Politics: Civil Rights and Leadership in African American Literature and Culture

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Exodus Politics
    Book Description:

    Using the term "exodus politics" to theorize the valorization of black male leadership in the movement for civil rights, Robert J. Patterson explores the ways in which the political strategies and ideologies of this movement paradoxically undermined the collective enfranchisement of black people. He argues that by narrowly conceptualizing civil rights in only racial terms and relying solely on a male figure, conventional African American leadership, though frequently redemptive, can also erode the very goals of civil rights.

    The author turns to contemporary African American writers such as Ernest Gaines, Gayl Jones, Alice Walker, and Charles Johnson to show how they challenge the dominant models of civil rights leadership.

    He draws on a variety of disciplines-including black feminism, civil rights history, cultural studies, and liberation theology-in order to develop a more nuanced formulation of black subjectivity and politics.

    Patterson's connection of the concept of racial rights to gender and sexual rights allows him to illuminate the literature's promotion of more expansive models. By considering the competing and varied political interests of black communities, these writers reimagine the dominant models in a way that can empower communities to be self-sustaining in the absence of a messianic male leader.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3527-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Introduction: Civil Rights, Leadership, and Exodus Politics
    (pp. 1-32)

    InRace Matters(1993), Cornel West argues that black leadership has entered a state of crisis because post–civil rights era black leaders do not possess “a collective and critical consciousness” for improving the plight of the black masses.¹ While romanticizing the commitment of pre–civil rights and civil rights era leaders to black communal enfranchisement, West rightfully illuminates how black politicians of the post–civil rights era might better serve black communities. West also, however, draws attention to a broader crisis of black leadership than just the lack of commitment to poor black communities among black politicians. As the...

  5. 1 “Is He the One?”: Civil Rights Activism and Leadership in Ernest Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
    (pp. 33-61)

    The publication ofThe Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman(1971) defined Ernest Gaines’s position as a national and international literary historian,¹ for the text makes a self-conscious effort to record African American women’s and men’s leadership in civil rights struggles from Emancipation to the middle of the civil rights movement. Like other fiction that emerges between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s,The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittmanemploys a “long” civil rights historical framework to establish a continuous, ongoing history of black freedom struggles in the New World and to emphasize that the civil rights movement occurring in the...

  6. 2 “The Refusal of Christ to Accept Crucifixion”: Bridge Leadership in Alice Walker’s Meridian
    (pp. 62-89)

    Claims that the civil rights movement began to decline in 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and ended in 1968, with the death of Dr. King, declare a decisive break in history marked by the end of that movement, the rise of the Black Power movement, and the onset of a post–civil rights era.¹ Even more problematically, they bind the movement’s goals to the passing of legislative acts and its lifetime to the life spans of a few exemplary male formal leaders. This narrative of historical “progress” elides the fact that neither social movements...

  7. 3 “The Important Thing Is Making Generations”: Reproduction and Blues Performance as Forms of Civil Rights Leadership in Gayl Jones’s Corregidora
    (pp. 90-124)

    Gayl Jones’s first novelCorregidora(1975), like Gaines’sMiss Pittmanand Walker’sMeridian, provides a fruitful discursive space to call into question the tendency of exodus politics to idealize black male formal leadership and conceptualize civil rights as separate from black women’s gender and sexual rights. WhereasMiss PittmanandMeridiancomplicate how the politics of gender and sexuality masculinize civil rights leadership,Corregidoraemphasizes how they reproduce discourses that privilege the enfranchisement of normative black subjects, and shows that the suppression of black women’s sexuality and the violation and exploitation of their bodies are civil rights issues that, when...

  8. 4 “We All Killed Him”: The Limits of Formal Leadership and Civil Rights Legislation in Charles Johnson’s Dreamer
    (pp. 125-152)

    Published at the end of the twentieth century, Charles Johnson’sDreamer(1998) engaged debates about civil rights, black leadership, and black politics that had persisted throughout the twentieth century. In 1903, for example, W. E. B. DuBois famously prophesied that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.”¹ DuBois suggested that unless white and nonwhite people could live together in a society without racial hierarchies, race relations would remain antagonistic. Despite the...

  9. Epilogue: Is There Life after Exodus Politics?
    (pp. 153-162)

    When Oprah Winfrey decided to endorse Barack Obama’s presidential bid, she carved out a new space for herself in American electoral politics. Although Winfrey previously had not endorsed any presidential candidate, her use of messianic typology demonstrated her familiarity with exodus politics’ long-standing history. Winfrey emphasized Obama’s uniqueness as “the One” who could redeem America and deliver her into a more democratic and equitable future. In an Iowa campaign speech in December 2007, she invoked Gaines’sThe Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittmanto explain Obama’s status as “the One” and thus situated him within the exodus politics tradition. Winfrey recounted...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 163-178)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-202)