Graduate Program


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Tim Engles

Thesis Committee Member

Melissa Ames

Thesis Committee Member

Jeannie Ludlow


From the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first century, black Americans have been subject to different forms of control. This subjection of blacks to societal demands arose in part because black people are viewed as inferior to white people. Because of this misconstrued perception, black people are forced to present an acceptable level of blackness to prevent punishment. Richard Wright's "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch" (1938), Zora Neale Hurston's "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" (1928), and Langston Hughes's "The Negro Artist and Racial Mountain" (1926) detail their lives at the tum of the twentieth century. These essays on various facets of black experience introduce readers to various methods of control enforced by white supremacist society. All three authors delineate the intricate workings of white control, and they call for the acceptance of one's black identity, even if it is not accepted by white society.

In this thesis, I examine the three authors' experiences with racialized dominance and their ultimate revolts against this form of enforced control. Furthermore, I trace the historical continuity of these authors' insights, provided via their personal encounters with white supremacy, to the conditions faced by modem day black persons. My contemporary realms of study include self-help books for black professionals, media-generated perceptions of black athletes, and literary representations of black artists. Ultimately, such texts show that black workers, athletes, and artists are still subject to racist control; however, much like the resistance that Wright, Hurston, and Hughes called for nearly a century beforehand, black workers, athletes and artists continue to resist such control. Drawing on various social theories, such as the code-switching theory, white gaze theory, and black performance theory, I delineate this historical continuity through analysis of the authors' texts, demonstrating the continued relevance of their insights to the lives of twenty-first century black Americans.