Shadowboxing pp 171-190 | Cite as

Conclusion: Black Shadow Boxers

  • Joy James


National cultures relegate their subordinated and marginalized peoples to the role of stigmatized Others—the lesser shadows of the “greater” normative bodies. To the extent that they resist and fight for the legitimacy of their appearance and attendant rights, Others become shadow boxers. They have their own internal hierarchies and contradictions marked by caste, class, race, sexuality, and gender. In American society, the most pronounced “seen invisibility”1 against the white landscape is the “black.” In the obscured background, the doubly eclipsed tend to be female, poor, lesbian/gay or bi/transsexual, and two-spirited.


Black Woman Black Male Black Female White Supremacy Gender Politics 
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  1. 2.
    For a discussion of the negative elements of the black male fighter see T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, “When a Black Woman Cries Rape: Discourses of Unrapeability, Intraracial Sexual Violence, and the State of Indiana v. Michael Gerard Tyson,” in eds. Sharpley-Whiting and Renee Scott Spoils of War (Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield Press, 1997), 45–58.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (New York: Bantam, 1970) 136.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    When We Were Kings Polygram Films, 1996. Also see Eldridge Cleaver, “Lazarus Come Forth,” in Soul on Ice (New York: Delta, 1968), 84–96. Reading Soul on Ice for the first time last summer, I found in Cleaver’s prison writings phrases and images—“iconoclast,” Frederick Douglass’s July 4, 1852 oration, metaphors of boxing and slavery—already used in Shadowboxing. As a black prison intellectual, Cleaver brilliantly and problematically dissected American antiblack racism. Known for his misogyny, self-acknowledged “sickness” as a rapist, his unacknowledged sickness as a batterer and homophobe, the late revolutionary-reactionary wrote a scathing, albeit distorted, cultural critique of white supremacy. Significantly, despite his anti-female positions, including his antipathy and violence toward African American women, black women and black feminists read Cleaver: Evelyn Williams’s Inadmissible Evidence: The Story of the African American Trial Lawyer Who Defended the Black Liberation Army (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1993) recounts that while briefly incarcerated in the 1970s on contempt charges levied by a reactionary judge as she served as lead attorney for her niece, Assata Shakur, she read Soul on Ice as well as works by Angela Davis.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    For a discussion of solipsism in white feminism, see Elizabeth Spelman, Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Ginia Bellafante, “Is Feminism Dead?” TIME June 29, 1998, 54–60. Accompanying Bellafante’s piece was “Girl Power” by Nadya Labi on young (post)feminists (60–64).Google Scholar
  6. Katha Pollitt, “Dead Again?” The Nation July 13, 1998, 10, critiques Bellafante’s article but does not mention race. If mainstream press had bothered to factor race into the equation, readers could have considered how sexual openness does not automatically signify “power” for black females. Historically depicted as sexually aggressive “bad girls,” black females were placed at significant risk for sexual abuse. The existential wealth of whiteness and the material wealth of the bourgeoisie grant female sexual assertion and aggression their cultural “(‘girl’) power.”Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    Katie Roiphe, The MorningAfter (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1993)Google Scholar
  9. Naomi Wolf, Promiscuities (New York: Random House, 1997). Bellafante’s essay overlooks that white beauty authority Naomi Wolf, along with Harvard University’s African American studies chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. and other influential culture-shapers traveled to the White House during Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign to strategize on how to rehabilitate Clinton’s image as a “friend” of African Americans, the working class, and women. This suggests a more overt political agenda for the “apolitical” women she criticizes. However, the politics may be centrist but not progressive: Clinton has enthusiastically promoted monopoly corporate capital while dismantling support systems for poor people; he is also credited with increasing the police powers of the state and incarceration rates for people of color.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    Ellen Willis, “We Need a Radical Left,” The Nation June 29, 1998, 18–21.Google Scholar
  11. 23.
    Angela Davis makes this argument in Women, Race and Class (New York: Random House, 1981).Google Scholar

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© James Joy 1999

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  • Joy James

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