College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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Department/Program Conferring Degree



black feminism, African American literature, stereotypes, enslavement, modern art


This thesis sheds light on the historical patterns of racialization and sexualization of black women and how those patterns have created visual depictions of black women that are not only still being shown today, but also powerfully reclaimed and resisted by black women activists as forms of protest. With the rise of these careful theorizations of black women by black women (and men), this thesis turns to Nicole Fleetwood’s Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness, Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, and Tavia Nyong’o’s The Amalgamation Waltz, as essential frameworks for my analysis that follows of sexualizations and racializations of black women in literature and visual culture, to understand both their past and enduring “cultural work” with a necessarily more inclusive and interdisciplinary understanding of that work than in the original introduction of this powerful phrase. Further, this thesis closely analyzes Harriet Wilson’s novel Our Nig and Kara Walker’s 2014 sculpture A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby since these are works that contain representations of black women crafted by black women. From this analysis, it was found that visual stereotypes of black women dating back to the nineteenth century have been used as resistance when manipulated by black women representing themselves. Therefore, literary tropes of black women and their appearances have been historically used to oppress black women, but over the years have been used by black women to reclaim authority over their bodies and to resist one dimensional stereotypes that have been used to oppress them.