Black Women, Media, and the Uses of Strategic Ambiguity
Published by: NYU Press
Winner, 2019 Outstanding Book Award, International Communication Association
How Black women in the spotlight negotiate the post-racial gaze of Hollywood and beyond
From Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Shonda Rhimes to their audiences and the industry workers behind the scenes, Ralina L. Joseph considers the way that Black women are required to walk a tightrope. Do they call out racism only to face accusations of being called “racists”? Or respond to racism in code only to face accusations of selling out? Postracial Resistance explores how African American women celebrities, cultural producers, and audiences employ postracial discourse—the notion that race and race-based discrimination are over and no longer affect people’s everyday lives—to refute postracialism itself. In a world where they’re often written off as stereotypical “Angry Black Women,” Joseph offers that some Black women in media use “strategic ambiguity,” deploying the failures of post-racial discourse to name racism and thus resist it.
In Postracial Resistance, Joseph listens to and observes Black women as they perform and negotiate race in strategic ambiguity. Using three methods of media analysis—textual readings of the media's representation of these women; interviews with writers, producers, and studio executives; and audience ethnographies of young women viewers—Joseph maps the tensions and strategies that all Black women must engage to challenge the racialized sexism of everyday life, on- and off-screen.
"The book is a much-needed contribution to sociological analysis of Black women’s talk, arguing Black women’s vocal performatives enact postracial political resistance... Postracial Resistance clarifies postracial logics—how they manifest ambivalence in public speaking events and even the most mundane speech acts of Black women in positions of institutional diversity and inclusion. Joseph adds Black women’s talk to the topic of postracial discourse emerging in critical communication, cultural studies, ethnic studies, and sociology." ~International Journal of Communication
"With the spectacular visibility of Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Beyoncé, such a book is needed now, perhaps, more than ever. To advance conversations about the intersections of race, class, gender, media, and accomplishment, Ralina Joseph introduces us to the concept of & strategic ambiguity, one that complicates the realities of celebrity life for women of color in the wake of the & postracial condition." ~Herman Gray,author of Cultural Moves, African Americans and the Politics of Representation
"The book is significant in centering the voices and experiences of African American women in media studies and articulating their strategic resistance in mediated spaces where they are minoritized." ~Choice
"A fascinating study that boldly mines the complexities of racial and gender microaggressions in contemporary media, examining the many ways in which Black women culture workers and consumers have navigated said minefields. Through nuanced readings of our notoriously vexed postracial pop cultural landscape, and through rich explorations of Black women and their audiences, Ralina Joseph has written a necessary accompaniment to Claudia Rankines Citizen." ~Daphne Brooks,author of Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910