Spires 2019

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Spires, Derrick R. The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States. Penn Press, 2019.

“When we approach early black writing through a print culture made up of pamphlets, poems, sketches, orations, appeals, treatises, convention proceedings, let- ters, mastheads, gift books, petitions, autobiographies, and a host of other kinds of documents by black individuals and collectives, citizenship quickly emerges as a key term and vexed concept.” (1)

“while scholars continue to recover histories of citizenship that doc- ument and analyze black activism and trace processes of racial ascription and white supremacy, we have yet to describe the degree to which black writers themselves conceptualized and transformed the meaning of citizen- ship in the early republic. “ (2)

this book demonstrates the commu- nal facets of citizenship discourse in black print culture to show that indi- viduals and collectives were both critical to theorizing and practicing citizenship. What I demonstrate in this book stems from answering the following key questions: What happens to our thinking about citizenship if, instead of reading black writers as reacting to or a presence in a largely white-defined discourse, we base our working definitions of citizenship on black writers’ proactive attempts to describe their own political work? What happens when we base our working definition of citizenship on black writ- ers’ texts written explicitly to and for black communities?” (2)

“To understand this theory, The Practice of Citizenship moves beyond simply defining “citizenship” and pursues the processes by which black citizens used print to articulate and enact the citizenship they theorized. How black print culture imagined citizenship is therefore as central to this study as the citizenship they imagined, and by the end of this book, I hope it is clear that the process of theorizing does the work of citizenship.” (3)

“Black citizenship theorizing developed over time as a collaborative, multi- media, polygeneric cultural and intellectual process for sustaining life in a fundamentally unjust society. For these writers, citizenship (and blackness itself) emerges not as a destination, an enacted identity, or static relation to a state but rather as a self-reflexive, dialectical process of becoming.” (3)

Citizenship is not defined by who one is but by how they PRACTICE citizenship

“My sense of citizenship as a practice, then, is capacious, embracing recognizable acts, such as voting, alongside less structured acts, such as greeting others on the street. Both acts can signal membership in a political body, and exclusion or refusal (in the act of greeting) can become mechanisms of erasure or identifying those outside the bounds of “citizen.” That is, citizenship and struggles for citizenship happen outside of official state institutions, in those very spaces black writers consistently cite as life sustaining. And it is through these sites that restrictive notions of belonging can be contested and in which alternate models can be theorized and practiced.” (4)

“Even as black writing offered theoretical readings of citizenship—that is, the content of black theories—its structure, innovative use of genre and form, and modes of circulation model the theories they sought to outline both in terms of how republican institutions should look and the critical sensibilities of the citizens who would constitute and, in turn, be consti- tuted through them.” (8)

Periodical press

Colored conventions

“By thinking of individual instances of black theorizing as a repertoire and the aggregate as an archive, I mean to signal each moment as a unique complex of textual production, circu- lation, and reception (imagined and actual) and at the same time to acknowledge my own position as an observer collecting and shaping a narrative out of these sites, a position I share with the writers I’m analyz- ing insofar as we are both engaged in the theorizing process.” (11)

Inverse causality: “Neither black reaction nor protest as we’ve gen- erally used the term, inverse causality suggests a dynamic in which white citizens (1) stripped rights away in response to or fear of black citizenship practices and aspirations; (2) structurally created conditions that led to material inequality; and then (3) retroactively used the resultant “condi- tion” to argue that black Americans were never citizens because they did not, could not, and could never have exercised the rights from which white Americans had (just) barred them.” (25-6)