Michele Wallace, 1997

Black Female Spectatorship and the Dilemma of Tokenism

by Michele Wallace, 1997

Preface

When I wrote this essay, I was struggling with something crucial in my knowledge of myself as a writer, intellectual, and perhaps even as an “artist” (although I don’t usually think of what I do as art), but, as usual, I had no idea where it all would lead. As such, this essay was not written with the intention of sharing conclusions already arrived at but, rather, it was a sketching out of ideas in formulation, more or less, at the moment of composition. There has been considerable editing after the fact in an attempt to make things fit in a coherent fashion, but I have felt in the end as though a real revision of the piece would completely destroy it. I would not write such a piece now about how I felt at academic conferences. I can hardly remember exactly what I was going through at those conferences then, although I continue to be faintly surprised at myself as someone who is black in a largely white profession. Although it still can be creepy (any kind of privilege is creepy), I am not nearly as afraid as I used to be. After all, it wasn’t the white people I was afraid of but myself.

Nevertheless, I thought the essay deserved publication (1) because I don’t like to suppress things I’ve written merely because I now find them embarrassing, and (2) because I think the question of spectatorship—whether there could be said to be such a thing as a black female spectator in a psychoanalytic sense, and where that left me so far as being somebody who was interested in spectatorship, black and otherwise—is still important.

At that time, I was beginning to think seriously about the idea that everything in one’s life wasn’t simply black or white, or, indeed, even related to race in any way. Lots of people who are not black take this kind of thinking for granted, but for me it was something new. Also, all of my concerns had to do with feminist generations of one kind or another: the generation of feminists who had embraced psychoanalytic feminism as a significant ( … )

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