Annotation: bell hooks’ “Loving Blackness as Political Resistance” (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “The Productive, Political Power of Love in Nina Revoyr’s Southland.”

hooks, bell. “Loving Blackness as Political Resistance.” Black Looks Race and Representation. New York: South End Press, 1999. 9-20. Print.

“In her essay, bell hooks critiques how students and scholars are more interested and comfortable with discussing “black self-hatred,” how blacks have desired and “tried to attain whiteness,” rather than the possibility of “loving blackness” (10). She emphasizes the need to deeply interrogate and move beyond this “black obsession with whiteness,” which merely focuses attention on oppressive white power structures and hierarchies, in some ways reinforcing their influence over black lives, rather than investing effort to articulate new modes of seeing and understanding the black body that can be truly liberating (11). hooks asserts that the most effective means of combating white supremacy, both external and internalized racism, is for individuals to love blackness, to not simply love themselves in spite of their blackness but because of their blackness. But she also notes the extreme difficulties that lie in the process as the structures of white supremacy continue to “seduce black folks with the promise of mainstream success if only [they] are willing to negate the value of blackness” (17). While hooks admits that black people who accept the status quo and conform to whiteness, will probably achieve greater material rewards and upward mobility, she emphasizes that this conception that one has to deny blackness and black culture in order to attain such levels of socio-economic success will only precipitate a precarious crisis in black identity.

hooks ultimately suggests the need for people learn how to love themselves and how that act of loving can serve as a real form of political resistance because it directly challenges the logics of white supremacist thought, which cast blackness as that which should not and cannot be loved. Revoyr’s Southland takes on this political project, as Jackie Ishida learns how to love herself, her history, her people, and the members of the black LA community who she realizes are also part of her family.

Annotation: Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s “An Unthinkable History” (1995)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Looking Behind the Bedroom Door: Productive Sensationalism and Domestic Violence in Leonora Sansay’s Secret History.” See my prospectus here.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. “An Unthinkable History: The Haitian Revolution as a Non-event.” Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 70-107. Print.

In his article, Trouillot offers important historical background on the Haitian Revolution. He exposes the paradox of Enlightenment thought, which celebrated universal human rights and equality while oppressive institutions of slavery and racial oppression still persisted. Trouillot asserts that “Colonization provided the most potent impetus for the transformation of European ethnocentrism into scientific racism,” where the enslavement of blacks were rationalized as a result of their inherent biological inferiority (77). He demonstrates that for the first time, humanity was considered in terms of varying degrees, where some groups were more human than others. It was widely believed that at the very bottom of this scale, “enslaved Africans and their descendents could not envision freedom—let alone formulate strategies for gaining and securing such freedom” (73). Trouillot therefore argues that even as it happened, the Haitian Revolution was “unthinkable” for the people of the time and even afterwards as world nations refused to officially acknowledge the new republic. Trouillot borrows Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the “unthinkable” as referring to “that which one cannot conceive within the range of possible alternatives which perverts all answers because it defies the terms under which the questions are phrased” (82). He describes how French delegates, such as Jean-Pierre Brissot, could not immediately accept the news that a revolution had occurred in Sain Domingue, outlining reasons for its sheer impossibility. Trouillot further asserts that when such facts became undeniable, much effort was expended to specifically narrate the revolution in a way that would fit into a white European worldview and uphold its racial and cultural hierarchies.

He discusses two different “formulas of silence” employed, one that involves complete erasure of the Haitian Revolution all together through archival omission and the another that attempts to trivialize the event by ignoring its radical, singular components (96). As examples of the first Trouillot cites Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age o Revolutions 1793-1843, which makes almost no reference to the Haitian Revolution and the way in which French historians have long downplayed the significance of losing Haiti, its most valuable colonial possession at the time. (99, 101). The second, which Trouillot seems to identify as even more troubling, is how specialists on Haiti persist to search for external factors that influenced the revolution rather than accepting and recognizing the internal work of the slaves themselves.

Trouillot’s emphasis on the importance of analyzing how the Haitian Revolution is narrated and for what ends will be particularly helpful in formulating my own thesis. In Secret History, Sansay herself seems to directly comment on how the Haitian Revolution was “unthinkable” for the French who believed that it would be easy for them to quickly re-colonize the island. I will examine further whether this is due to her status as an American in Saint Domingue. I am also interested in exploring how the narrative addresses other realms of the “unthinkable” in regards to gender relations—the murderous jealousy of Creole ladies and women of color as well as Clara’s own horrifying experience of domestic abuse which was “unthinkable” for her sister.

Annotation: Celine Parreñas Shimizu’s “Assembling Asian American Men in Pornography” (2010)

Peer-Review: 0

Shimizu, Celine Parreñas. “Assembling Asian American Men in Pornography: Shattering the Self Toward Ethical Manhoods.” Journal of Asian American Studies 13.3 (June 2010): 163-189. Print.

Analyzing two Asian American 2004 porn films–Darrell Hamamoto’s “Yellowcaust” and David Hou’s “Masters of the Pillow”–Shimizu underscores the risks and dangers in current projects of pornographic production that aim to reclaim Asian American sexual representation.  Producing these porn films to counter dominant representations of Asian American masculinity as lacking, the filmmakers privilege heteronormativity and same-race coupling.  Within these problematic frameworks, Asian American masculinity is privileged and defined through the domination of Asian American women–reclaiming them from interracial couplings on-screen–and rejecting queer and asexual Asian American men; of course, lesbians are once again excluded from this equation.  Shimizu argues that the visibility of Asian American men in such porn productions upholds gender hierarchies and heteronormativity; consequently, such representations ironically reinforce notions of Asian American masculinity as lacking and destructively closes off possibilities for exploring and representing sexualities beyond binaristic norms.

According to Hamamoto, dominant images in the media and in porn shape our desire for whiteness and instigate our self-hatred.  Framing Asian Americans as victims within structures of white power, he calls for the assertion of Asian American masculinity over Asian American women “as redemptive of racial wounding” (168).  Shimizu argues, however, that such a reading is overly simplistic and neglects to consider the complex dynamics in which the viewers process their consumption of porn.  She further critiques simplistic assessments of visibility which posit that the mere representation of opposite-sex Asian American couplings in porn is revolutionary.  On the contrary, Shimizu underscores the need for critical analyses of “gendered power” in such porn productions that deny Asian American women their sexual agency and portray gayness as undesirable (170).  Portraying heterosexual sex acts as “the actual order of things,” the filmmakers impose their own meanings through these films and deny viewers the ability to participate with representations as sites in which other possibilities for sexuality may be negotiated (173).

By “shattering of the self,” Shimizu calls for challenging dominant linkages between sex acts and identities such as penetration symbolizing masculinity.  She stresses the opportunity for reconstructing notions of self by first deconstructing such destructive linkages.  One means of doing so is understanding and deconstructing the different forms of sexualization based on gender and their manifestation on screen through porn.  For Asian American women in porn, Shimizu argues that they “use the tools of their subjugation to recast and rewrite their roles” whereas men assert domination over women (180).  The two porn films, Shimizu argues, reinforces notions of sexuality as inherent and coherent.  Therefore, their mission is for men to reassert their (coherent) sexuality over their victimization.  This emphasis and claim of a coherent masculinity as the key for liberation of Asian Americans as a whole represents male narcissism, which Shimizu connects to Hamamoto’s own capitalist ambitions of constructing a porn empire (which would necessitate the presence of Asian American male subjects).

The framing of sexuality as whole and purely in terms of domination and power represses understandings of sexuality as a production that could be negotiated.  In debunking this notion of wholeness and self, Shimizu calls for a productive discourse surrounding sexuality.  Shifted away from concepts of power, we may then redefine masculinity in terms of “ethical manhoods” to stress sexuality as an ethics of care toward the self and toward others.  This necessitates a clearer understanding of power and privilege among individuals, including Asian American men.  Instead of seeing themselves as mere victims, they must understand and acknowledge their own privileges and the powers that their actions may assert.