From free/slave binaries to Black/White dialectics: The problem of race in antebellum discourse (1831--1861)
This dissertation argues that the death of slavery in the nineteenth-century paralleled the birth of “race” as an operational term in matters of social policy, cultural production, and legal disputes. This claim requires investigating the dialectical relationship between Blackness and Whiteness as categories of being. Therefore, this project operates on two levels: fixing the boundaries between Blackness and Whiteness in the antebellum period in order to unfix them, and contesting the idea of boundaries or boundary-making as an ontological act. Specifically, this project looks at four dimensions of the discourse of race in antebellum America: law as a constitutive element of race; allocating Blackness within a discourse of pain; race as performance/performativity; and race as a case of geo-politics. Addressing these issues requires deploying contemporary rhetorical theory, especially deconstruction, to define the grounds upon which race operated as a social and cultural phenomenon. My focus on the antebellum contention over race anticipates and explains the failure of the Reconstruction and the establishment of the Jim Crow South as the inevitable consequences of the gradual process of replacing slavery with “race” as the site of civic and social power. The most important finding of this dissertation is that discussions of race in the nineteenth-century bear a strong resemblance to contemporary ones. Therefore, the study of civil rights as a history and not only as a movement is crucial to revising contemporary race relations and laws. In addition, restoring to race its rhetoricity opens the door for re-defining difference as a pre-requisite for equality in a multi-cultural, multi-lateral civil society. ^
History, Black|History, United States|Language, Rhetoric and Composition
"From free/slave binaries to Black/White dialectics: The problem of race in antebellum discourse (1831--1861)"
Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access).