Koritha Williams

Nov 5, 2020

From Slave Cabins to the White House

Homemade Citizenship in African American Culture

University of Illinois Press 2020

purchase at bookshop.org

Koritha Mitchell, Associate Professor of English at The Ohio State University, has written a complex, interdisciplinary, and important analysis focusing on black women as the lens to explore the intersection of racism and sexism and the strategies that black women have used to persevere and succeed, over 400 years, in the United States. Mitchell’s expertise in American literature and culture is essential to the exploration in From Slave Cabins to the White House: Homemade Citizenship in African American Culture (U Illinois Press, 2020), since she turns to the work of writers, playwrights, artists, and celebrated black women to weave together her thesis about how black women have been seen as house slaves, house keepers, but not homemakers. This thesis, which is central to the discussion in From Slave Cabins to the White House, uses a number of cultural texts to examine this idea of “homemade citizenship” that has been constructed by black and brown women who are often in the complicated situation of experiencing success, achievement, pursuing citizenship, and yet, equally as often, facing violence in response to these successes, achievements, and quests for citizenship and belonging within the United States.

In concentrating on the experience of black women in the United States, and their successes, in the construction of full and diverse lives with family and professional achievement, Mitchell examines how black women have created and achieved the very epitome of what is deemed success in the United States and have only found that they continue to be erased from this idealized conception of the American dream. The idea of homemaking, a place where the home and all it contains—family, property, food, safety, etc.—has often been the center of the general concept of the American dream. But as Mitchell highlights throughout this fascinating and nuanced analysis, black women have achieved this goal, this idealized form of citizenship, especially for women in the United States, only to continue to find themselves outside of this domestic space because of the way that African Americans are marginalized and often attacked. This is the thesis—the subversion of achievement—that frames the investigation of so many cultural texts that demonstrate the validity of this thesis. Mitchell is guided through her research by Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankine, Lorraine Hansberry, and finally, Michelle Obama, and so many others, as the book weaves together different cultural voices and examples of this quest towards feminine achievement and the recurring response of erasure, disrespect, and violence.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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