This article explores how antiracism cultivates happiness among white subjects and how that emotion alienates people of color. It argues that a cohort of twentieth-century African American writers critiqued this happy antiracism in their fiction, examining Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) and Alice Walker’s Meridian (1976) as two representative examples. Both novels portray what Sara Ahmed calls an “affective economy,” specifically the unequal affective economy produced by antiracism’s circulation as a cultural object. Wright considers how antiracism occasions happiness in white subjects by bolstering their sense of their own virtue, and how this happiness alienates African Americans, for whom antiracism is embedded in the experience of ongoing racial violence. Writing in the heyday of second-wave feminism, Walker examines how, even as antiracism shores up happy feeling, it can also compromise the agency of white women, whose activism is mediated by the persistence of nineteenth-century ideals of sentimentalism and domesticity.
Whiteness and the Affective Economy of Happy Antiracism in Native Son and Meridian
Taylor Johnston-Levy is a postdoctoral fellow at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where she researches nineteenth- and twentieth-century US literature, realism, and critical race theory. In 2019–20, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at Tel Aviv University’s Center for the Study of the United States in Partnership with the Fulbright Program. Her work has appeared in Arizona Quarterly, Critique, and the Raymond Carver Review.
Taylor Johnston-Levy; Whiteness and the Affective Economy of Happy Antiracism in Native Son and Meridian. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 June 2023; 69 (2): 147–176. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-10580797
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