Karen Gaffney shines a different light on the Bellefleur curse in her article “Whiteness as Cursed Property: An Interdisciplinary Intervention with Joyce Carol Oates’s Bellefleur and Cheryl Harris’s ‘Whiteness as Property.’”
This article begins with the assertion that now more than ever, in the aftermath of Ferguson and in a time when many believe our society to be post-racial, we need to bring together scholars and activists who care about racial justice, regardless of discipline, and build interdisciplinary tools for fighting racism. Furthermore, we need to understand and reveal how whiteness has been socially constructed because the power of whiteness lies in its invisibility, and that fuels the perpetuation of systemic racism. In making whiteness visible, we can see how it has been wielded as a weapon, which in turn will allow us to see how destructive it is for everyone, whites included. As part of this work, we need to break down the disciplinary boundary between literary studies and critical race theory (a field within legal studies that examines systemic racism in the context of the law). One example of such an interdisciplinary intervention is to bring together Cheryl Harris, a critical race theorist, and Joyce Carol Oates, a novelist. Harris published one of the foundational pieces of critical race theory in 1993 with her law review article “Whiteness as Property,” a legal analysis of whiteness, and Oates produced a masterpiece of American literature in 1980 with her novel Bellefleur, a complex story of a powerful white family that spans seven generations. This pairing lays the groundwork for the type of interdisciplinary dialogue we need because, within literary studies, when the novelist is white and the characters are white, there is still very little emphasis on the study of whiteness even though race is a significant focus of attention when the novelist and characters are people of color. Whiteness is still invisible, and that is part of the problem I am describing, both within literary studies and in our society at large. We need an interdisciplinary intervention to pull back the curtain on whiteness, see how it operates, recognize its danger, and dismantle it. Bringing together Harris and Oates, specifically “Whiteness as Property” and Bellefleur, can help us do just that as we work towards achieving justice.
I'm a Reference Librarian at the University of San Francisco's Gleeson Library, and I run the Joyce Carol Oates web site, Celestial Timepiece.
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