Critical Whiteness in Contemporary African American Media Networks
Einstein Junior Fellowship
Project Leader: Martin Lüthe
This project, which begins in July 2019, aims to demonstrate how “whiteness” has emerged as a critical category in contemporary networks of African American media production—critical in two meanings of the term: as a simultaneously significant (meaning-making) and contested (controversially conspicuous) category. The project thus follows the hypothesis that the cultural (and economic) success of African American media networks in the digital age—and more specifically, in the historical context of hashtag activisms like #BlackLivesMatter and #oscarssowhite—complicates the status of “whiteness” as a signifier in American cultural production both at the level of structure and content. The project defines African American media networks as the interrelated practices of (1) taking black creative control and reflecting on it, (2) establishing and disseminating popular alternative narratives of the histories and the status quo of the power of whiteness from a black (American) vantage point, and (3) activating audiences and creating self-aware communicative communities in a digital media ecology. In these networks, exemplified here by the debates, controversies and political reverberations accompanying the work of novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the FX television series Atlanta (2016-), Beyoncé’s album Lemonade (2016), and the superhero movie Black Panther (2018),the project approaches the meaning of “whiteness” from two connected perspectives: as a category of representation in black cultural production and as inherently entangled with the media ecologies of their meaning-making, which cut across any group-based (“white” or “black”) site of enunciation, while mobilizing exactly such (ethnic) self-identifications. Thus, the project will trace the structural shifts of media production, dissemination, and reception into digital media networks and how these have not only enabled a profound complication of “the white image in the black mind” (Bay 2000), but how these shifts have also impacted the ways in which “white people,” as media actors, communicate, perform, and conceive of their own whiteness in response to the networks the project analyzes.