January 9–12, 2020 (Seattle, WA)
C19 Comparative Race and Indigeneity (roundtable organized by LLC 19th-Century American)
During this roundtable, I’ll be presenting remarks titled “Extralegal Violence and Economies of Dispossession in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” which analyze race and indigeneity in relation to economies of dispossession shored up by extralegal violence across the nineteenth-century United States. Building on the work of Jodi Byrd, Alyosha Goldstein, Jodi Melamed, and Chandan Reddy, I constellate antebellum economies of dispossession including but also exceeding slavery and settler colonialism, revealing how the seeds of predatory dispossession we’re seeing under neoliberalism in the twenty-first century were already being sown under liberalism in the nineteenth.
Indeed, in the nineteenth century, across the growing nation, extralegal violence became one significant mechanism by which the white elite accumulated more abstract and material property by dispossessing people of color. The antebellum state aided these pursuits by embracing economic liberalism—the so-called freedom of markets—and ignoring how political liberalism—the freedom of human beings—predicated notions of propertied white men’s autonomy and individualism on the exclusion and disavowal of everyone else. The white obsession with expressing freedom through possessive individualism functioned to encourage and legitimize extralegal violence against those occupying spheres of subjection. Antebellum cultural texts by Yellow Bird and Frank J. Webb, in highlighting this fact, recognize that liberal democratic notions of freedom under racial capitalism compel racialized and racializing extralegal violence.
Confederate Monuments, Memory, and Memorials: The Uses and Abuses of the Nineteenth Century (roundtable co-organized by LLC 19th-Century American and LLC Southern US)
During this roundtable, I’ll be presenting remarks titled “Redeeming White Women in/through Early Lost Cause Films.” Donald Trump has publicly opposed the removal of Confederate monuments because, in his words, they represent “our” heritage and history. His use of the plural possessive pronoun immediately excludes on the basis of race. But does it also exclude on the basis of gender? Though Confederate monuments’ most visible supporters are white men—which makes sense given the white masculinity such monuments attempt to reinscribe—as a recent article in Harper’s points out, “in the alt-right, women are the future, and the problem.” After all, Trump, a noted misogynist and sexual predator, arguably won the 2016 electoral college by virtue of the large share of white women’s votes he garnered. This neo-Confederate predicament about white women’s role can be traced back to earlier memorializations of the Confederacy. The so-called redemption of the South embodied in Confederate monuments—whether literal or literary—has frequently focused on white men. I shift the focus to white women, specifically arguing for their own redemption through their embrace of their status as property through a reading of still-popular canonical films like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939). In The Birth of a Nation, for example, twin narratives of black men’s sexual pursuit of white women are ultimately corrected by white men’s acts of extralegal violence that restore their sole ownership—figured as protection— of white women. As the threatened and then revenged or restored property of white men, Flora and Elsie trade economic and political power for cultural power through self-sacrifice or marriage. In the end, southern white women use their agency to further their constraint in Lost Cause literature from the late nineteenth century to today.