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From Pursuing Innocence to Ensuing Innocence: How Performance Can Empower Youth to Access and Establish Shared Governance in Juvenile Justice

  • Author(s): Teshome, Tezeru
  • Advisor(s): George-Graves, Nadine
  • et al.

Through a Performance Studies methodology of Dr. Frank B. Wilderson’s Narrative Aporia, I first analyze how Black girlhood in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) and Ryan Fleck’s “Half-Nelson” (2006) is signified and socialized outside childhood conventions of innocence and purity under the pretense of public safety. Positioned as the absolute negative, I interrogate how the Black girl is structured and conditioned to desire and conjure full subjectivity in girlhood through seeking White redemption. However, this feat is unachievable because the very idea of full personhood is predicated on the impossibility of Black personhood.

In the second part of my dissertation, I offer innovative ways youth can seek structural access to White institutionality, rather than desire an unachievable redemption. The difference between positionality and access is that positionality is ontological and access is spatiotemporal, meaning it can be usurped and abdicated by an organized collective to embody and practice self-value and self-representation in local government. As conscious, consuming, and contributing citizens of the state, I explain why and how young people can have more access to substantially influence juvenile justice decision-making policies that disproportionately target them as non-child (e.g., pickaninny and super-predator stereotypes). I focus on how performance can be used to organize and empower youth to collectively question and infiltrate institutions of protective care that uphold racialized ideals of innocence and civility, such as the juvenile justice system.

Grounding one half of this work in Performance Studies provides insight into how the state relies on the racialization of girlhood, and youth of color writ large, to construct public narratives of innocence, crime, and safety. Furthermore, the political and psychic dynamic of this relationality is the impetus to intervene in juvenile justice reform by incorporating credible youth feedback in policy-making decisions. I hope to continue this theorization on how to mobilize youth voice into youth leadership in civic-engagement and juvenile justice,

into a ten-year project that utilizes performance and access to local government to improve community civic engagement and quality of life for disenfranchised youth.

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