Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities
2009—2010 Forum on Connections
Ordinary Depressions: Race, Crisis, and the Remaking of American Liberalism
My dissertation examines the emphasis on and erasure of racial difference in the inclusionary nationalism of interwar American culture. If the New Deal and Popular Front imagined the Depression as a collective crisis that transcended the color line, this project probes the limits of racial liberalism and the politics of visibility as responses to structural asymmetries of power. Considering texts by Sterling Brown, Fannie Hurst, H.T. Tsiang, Paul Siu, and Charles Reznikoff, I outline an intellectual tradition that contests the equation of racial injury with exclusion from a liberal ideal and problematizes the incorporation of racial difference into ethnic paradigms of assimilation. These writers document the “ordinary depressions” obscured by the dominant narrative of shared trauma and the universalizing force of American nationalism. My interdisciplinary focus on the place of race in the liberal national imaginary organizes more specific literary encounters with gender conservatism, sociological models of race relations, and American regionalism.