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Title page for ETD etd-11182016-161411

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Kabugi, Magana J.
URN etd-11182016-161411
Title “We’re all caught up in it one way or another”: African American Comics, Civil Rights, and Political Personhood
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Haerin Shin Committee Chair
Vera Kutzinski Committee Member
  • graphic novels
Date of Defense 2016-12-01
Availability unrestricted
One of the main goals of Jim Crow segregation laws—apart from demarcating a clear societal boundary between the races—was to exclude African Americans from the benefits, promises and ideals of American nationhood and citizenship. Although various forms of media were complicit in this act of exclusion, comics in particular played a unique role because of their combined visual, textual, ideological and cultural currency. As a visual and textual medium, comics employed racist stereotypes that depicted African Americans as clownish, lazy and semiliterate figures content with their subjection. The effectiveness of these racist images and narratives thus helped to secure ideological notions of white superiority, which then diffused throughout society and formed an integral part of American culture. The ingraining of stereotypes in the national psyche reinforced the notion that citizenship and nationhood were out of reach for blacks. However, black cartoonists who were aware of comics’ power to preserve hegemonic structures knew that the same medium could help to tear down those barriers.

This thesis seeks to advance the critical study of black comics by focusing on the role that black cartoonists, comic books and comic strips played not only in advancing civil rights, but also in the advancement of what I call “political personhood.” Through their visuality and narrative, African American comic books and comic strips were instrumental in constructing and mobilizing a community, both physical and conceptual, that connected black people to one another and to a wider concept of American nationhood and citizenship.

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