Introduction: In the Shadows of Citizenship
African Americans and Democracy's Alterity
Beginning with a reading of a Sojourner Truth carte-de-visite and its epigrammatic phrasing, this introductory chapter prefigures Ralph Ellison's notion of the “shadow” and Jacques Derrida's notion of the “specter” to underscore the book's critique of democratic sociality in mid-19th century America. Using the context of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and the 1857 Dred Scott decision to intimate the fraught condition of antebellum black political subjectivity, the chapter stages the book's central concern with aurality and visuality. On the one hand, it outlines how a preoccupation with the vernacular practices of vocal enunciation was part of a larger national rhetoric about democracy. On the other hand, it outlines how a preoccupation with the meanings of visual representations was tied to the graphic processes of imagining the citizen.
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