Systemic Racism in Nineteenth-Century Tales of Black Revenge
Committee MemberBourrier, Karen
Ethnic and Racial Studies
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AbstractSystemic Racism in Nineteenth-century Tales of Black Revenge highlights the shifting conception of racial oppression across France, Britain, and the USA through an investigation of stories of black or mixed-race avengers. In Histoire des deux Indes (1770), Denis Diderot wrote that “all Negroes need is a leader, valiant enough to guide them towards vengeance and massacre”. Far from viewing revenge as a private vendetta, Diderot saw revenge as a way for the oppressed black slaves to repair systemic wrong to which they were victims; to strike against the racial structure of society and establish social equilibrium. He was not alone. Many nineteenth-century writers, from Maria Edgeworth, with “The Grateful Negro” (1804), to Alexandre Dumas, with Georges (1843), imagined attempts by people of color to redress racial injustice. Yet while scholarship has examined the meaning of revenge narratives for ideas regarding black agency, it has neglected the conception of systemic racism of such tales. My thesis contributes to previous studies by filling this research gap. Drawing on narrative theory, I distinguish three different kinds of black revenge in nineteenth-century literature: (1) tales from a weak abolitionist movement, which depict systems of oppression as invincible; (2) tales from a strong abolitionist movement, which identify hidden mechanisms that sustain racial injustice, and (3) tales of a post-abolition era, which deny systemic oppression. I also shed light on cultural variations in revenge narratives, notably French works’ reluctance to support black avengers, British texts’ tendency to locate racial oppression beyond their borders and American tales’ struggle to conceptualize black collective action. This thesis thus adds nuance to previous scholarship on nineteenth-century racial tales of revenge, so far emphasizing what such narratives have in common: an apparent desire to silence the political motives of black agency.
CitationDarbouze-Bonyeme, N. (2022). Systemic racism in nineteenth-century tales of black revenge (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.
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