In the dark drama and shock tactics of the Trump White House, I found myself obsessed with Dorothy Dandridge, a woman I had been quite unaware of until now. In following her traces, I recall the South in the sixties, race discrimination and raw hate, as well as recognize her particular kind of beauty, so strong that it had to be forgotten. Her doomed life led me to reflect on how old inequalities are always repackaged in new ways. What does it mean, in the words of Harry Belafonte, to write about a “black woman” who had to pay a “price for her blackness”? Perhaps the only way right now is to return to the catastrophic racism of the South, its history and continued life in the current spectacles of hate and celebratory violence, which are part of that “old feeling” of legal stigma that always bore deep into the life of this country.
That Old Feeling, or Thinking Dandridge in the Time of Trump
Colin Dayan is professor of English, Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities, and professor of law at Vanderbilt University. The recipient of numerous awards, including Danforth, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, she has written for the Yale Review, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Boston Review, and other publications. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012. Her books include Haiti, History, and the Gods; The Story of Cruel and Unusual; The Law Is a White Dog; and With Dogs at the Edge of Life.