Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation

Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation

Shirley Moody-Turner

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9781617038853

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi

Abstract

Before the innovative and groundbreaking work of Zora Neale Hurston, folklorists from the Hampton Institute collected, studied and wrote about African American folklore. Like Hurston, the Hampton folklorists worked within, but also beyond the bounds of white mainstream institutions, often calling into question the meaning of the very folklore projects in which they were engaged. This book brings together these folklorists, along with a disparate group of African American authors and scholars, including Charles Chesnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Anna Julia Cooper, to explore how black authors and folklorists were active participants--rather than passive observers--in conversations about the politics of representing black folklore. Examining literary texts, folklore documents, cultural performances, legal discourse, and political rhetoric, Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation demonstrates how folklore studies became a battle ground across which issues of racial identity and difference were asserted and debated at the turn of the twentieth century. The book is framed by two questions of historical and continuing import, namely, what role have representations of black folklore played in constructing notions of racial identity that remain entrenched up to and through present day, and how have those ideas impacted the way African Americans think about and creatively engage with black cultural traditions. This study offers a new context for re-thinking the relationship between African American Literature, African American folklore, race, and the politics of representation.