Reproducing the Crisis: Blackness, Violence, and Visual Culture in the Postwar American City

Wayne Coffey
History of Consciousness
UC Santa Cruz

How do stereotypical narratives about black urban life in the United States produce political policies that reproduce violence in those communities? This dissertation answers this question by examining a variety of visual texts: civil rights photographs, African-American newspapers, cable television programs, and the political use of digital media platforms such as Twitter. The project privileges the visual because its focus on violence examines those moments when stereotypical, pathological, and hegemonic images of urban black life are deployed in service of political and municipal policies and practices that harm these communities, such as welfare reform, police brutality, housing discrimination, racial profiling, and excessive discipline in public schools. The project makes a contribution to the fields of critical race and ethnic studies, visual culture, African-American history, and urban studies by interrogating two uses of black representation: (1) How are African-Americans represented metonymically through the language of pathology in popular culture and political discourse and how do these stereotypical narratives inform urban public policy? (2) How do African-American activists, intellectuals, and artists counter hegemonic narratives of black pathology and represent themselves differently, and how are these modified narratives put in service of black political self-determination?