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Speaking of Race: American Dreams, American Nightmares


NSCAD University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


While the election of Barack Obama to the office of US President is a significant historic event, recent claims that America is finally “post-racial or post-ethnic” engage a set of ideas that are decidedly not new, but partake of a long-standing, hegemonic and idealized figuration of “America” as a conversation or “dialogue,” a concordia discors, in which certain chosen actors may secure and maintain domestic peace by agreeing to disagree. Indeed, Obama’s own rhetoric is drawn from this “conversational” reserve, although not without some trouble. By reading select pieces of African American literature against the grain of this conversational strain in American letters, and examining how these evocations of America’s racial past work “treasonously” in relation various versions of America-as-dialogue, this article aims to find other, more particular, even difficult, grounds for relationship, subjectivity, ethical action and imagination than appeals to an abstract and impossible American dream.

Keywords: Barack Obama, Toni Morrison, race, American dream, American nightmare, W.E.B. Du Bois, post-racial, concordia discors, American Studies



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