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(Neo) liberal Re-writings of Black Radical Memory in Television Documentary: 1989-1995

  • Author(s): Schmitt, Mary C.
  • Advisor(s): Perlman, Allison
  • et al.
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This dissertation examines the operations and impact of racial liberalism on popular memory texts of Black liberation history of the 1960s and 1970s. Specifically, I investigate the ways liberal racial discoursces from the late-1980s to mid-1990s depoliticize the most radical elements of the Black Freedom Struggle and refashion this history to fit within liberal narratives of American progress and exceptionalism. The central ideological sites analyzed in this dissertation are broadcast television documentaries that aired from the years 1987 to 1995. The first chapter analyzes the Black Freedom Struggle more broadly as it is portrayed in the PBS television series Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years. Then, in chapters two and three, I look more specifically at portrayals of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. In all three chapters, I carefully track the ways liberal frameworks operate through close analysis of narrative structure, editing, sound, and cinematography, while attending to the specific historical and material conditions that require this liberal re-writing. I illustrate how these cultural sources imagine using the past to put forward a kind of antiracist politic in their present, but I also expose how liberal forms of antiracism actually enable and conceal the continued and worsening racial violence and inequity that are systemic to US global capitalism.

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This item is under embargo until July 8, 2021.