The End of Innocence: Women of Color Literature, Utopia, and the Cultural Politics of U.S. Cold War Racial Liberalism
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This project studies the centrality of the utopian and dystopian narrative form in U.S. political culture after the protracted racial crisis of the 1960s. This dissertation explores two main lines of inquiry. The first addresses the way women of color literature provides a genealogy of liberal subject formation; and the second studies how the genre of utopia mediates the racial organization of the U.S. state during the Cold War period and its aftermath. While utopia and dystopia seem like contradictory forms, I study both genres because utopian visions of the future are grounded in dystopian visions of the present. I argue that the genres of dystopia and utopia become a crucial locus of critical intervention for the U.S racial liberal state, minority nationalism, and women of color literature. The race riots of this period present a watershed moment that needed a genre for the interpretation, and mediation, of race and the U.S. state. Dystopia was the genre that served this purpose. The 1968 Kerner Commission Report is an exemplary text of the dystopian representational regime of the racial liberal state of the Cold War period. Developed under the aegis of the federal government to diagnose the Watts, Chicago, and Newark riots, which have been understood as the most disruptive period of rioting in U.S. history, the report identifies not only the causes of the riots but also the appropriate strategies for the prevention of urban uprisings. Undergirding the report's dystopian narrative was a logic of pluralism that worked to identify and represent "authentic" racialized groups for racial harmony. This report also influenced the narrative forms and practices of minority nationalism of this period, which took up the rhetoric of authenticity in the production of racialized male subjects as necessary figures for social movements and the achievement of a new racial political order. Women of color literature of the post-Cold War moment returns us to the centrality of utopia in the production of meaning around race and the nation, and makes new interventions into racial liberalism and minority nationalism. Specifically, my project explores how a cohort of critical utopian and dystopian writers, including Cynthia Kadohata, Julie Dash, Karen Tei Yamashita, Rosaura Sánchez, and Beatrice Pita, emerges in a moment in which the U.S. Cold War liberal state begins to narrate itself as the leading nation in defining notions of freedom, capitalism, and globality. Contradicting the image of the U.S. as an egalitarian entity, women of color writers produce critical utopian and dystopian narratives that complicate our understanding of the relationship between racialized and gendered populations and the U.S. racial liberal state. I argue that the racial liberal state and minority nationalism have used utopian and dystopian rhetorics to produce closed notions of the nation, race, and subjects. In contrast, women of color critical utopia and dystopia re-deploy these genres in ways that challenge us to imagine oppositional practices that counter the closed narratives of the racial liberal state and minority nationalism.
- English