Negation and Identity

The growing anticipation surrounding Ta Nehisi Coates’s new book, We Were Eight Years in Power, prompted me to go back and read his essay from The Atlantic “The First White President,” a selection from the book about the ways in which Donald Trump used his whiteness to reach the presidency. Coates’s main argument is that Trump’s rise to power had everything to do with his being the negation of a black president. As I looked at the selection a second time, I recalled the language of negation worked to categorize humans and otherwise in Clay’s Ark and Fledgling. 

In fact,  I spent the first 63 pages of Fledgling doubting that Shori was a vampire because it was never explicitly said. Wright spent a great deal of time exploring what Shori was not. Of course, there is speculation that Shori is a vampire but, Wright deals more with defining attributes in the negative. “You can’t be any more than ten or eleven,” (8) he says to her in their first encounter, immediately seizing power on her based on her lack of identity and subsequent lack of self. Page eighteen, the page on which Wright asks about her gender, is another example of how definitions of identity can create power structures. Shori’s amnesia enables Wright to define her identity. Before the beginning of the novel, Shori had an identity (just as the white presidents before Obama had a shared whiteness). However, after she emerges from the cave, Shori has to redefine her identity (just as Trump is doing with whiteness in a post-Obama presidency).


Indeed, we find out that Shori’s “blackness” is manufactured or, engineered. Dr. Doggett talked about the ways in which language can mark race in our 203 class last semester and I come back to this thought when reading Butler’s fiction. In Clay’s Ark, we never hear about Blake’s whiteness, only the fact that his wife was black and his children mix-raced. In Fledgling, we discover Shori’s “blackness” as she does and we are asked to think of it in terms of the rest of the Ina. She is marked in this way to not only be black but to also be non-white. Dr. Doggett discussed the ways negation (that is, defining something by what it is not) constantly reinforces structural racism. I see some of that come through in Butler’s work. I think that the engineering of Shori’s race is a comment on how language creates race when, really, all that is there is a difference in skin color.



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