This essay examines two oppositional figures in Paul Beatty’s debut novel, The White Boy Shuffle (1996), and most recent novel, The Sellout (2015): the exalted race leader and the excoriated race traitor. Positioned at extreme ends of the spectrum of exceptionalism, these figures function to perpetuate a phenomenon that the essay’s author terms the necropolitics of black exceptionalism, the paradox of justifying the violent oppression of the majority of black people by celebrating or censuring a single black figure. In exploring the absurd dimensions of these extreme figures through the lens of satire, both novels denounce black exceptionalism as a necropolitical tool of oppression that entrenches the social death and civic exclusion of black people in a modern US society that purports to be color-blind and postracial. Emerging within the postmodern turn of the African American literary tradition, these novels take on a nihilistic tone to raise questions about how the black community might effectively (if at all) achieve civil progress in the contemporary age. Ultimately, these satirical novels reimagine historically necropolitical spaces, such as the basketball court, the plantation, and the segregated urban neighborhood, as potential, albeit vexed sites of black agency, empowerment, and community building.

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