Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus

Margo Natalie Crawford


Jul 2008
Literary Criticism/American/African American
224 pp. 6x9

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Table of Contents


“Margo Natalie Crawford offers a new reading of African-American literary texts in two ways: First, I am not aware of another African-American literary text that adds the issue of colorism to its critique of the homoerotic. Second, the analysis of dilution anxiety used in a comparative analysis of both American and African-American literary texts provides a specific lens through which to interweave American and African-American literary texts. Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus is impressively scholarly in the ways in which the author uses a diverse range of critical/intellectual sources. These sources are invaluably interdisciplinary.” —Joyce Ann Joyce, professor of English, Temple University

“Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus is an original contribution to African-American and race studies because it focuses on the representation of shades of ‘blackness,’ rather than on the now-tired dichotomy of blackness/whiteness. There has been no other full-length literary treatment giving sustained attention to the representation of shades of skin color and their acquired meanings. Her attention to the significance of shades of skin color in twentieth-century American literary texts, as the embodiment of a variety of abstract notions having to do with race, is very appealing and innovative.” —Marta Caminero-Santangelo, associate professor of English, University of Kansas

After the “Black is Beautiful” movement of the 1960s, black body politics have been overdetermined by both the familiar fetishism of light skin as well as the counter-fetishism of dark skin. Moving beyond the longstanding focus on the tragic mulatta and making room for the study of the fetishism of both light-skinned and dark-skinned blackness, Margo Natalie Crawford analyzes depictions of colorism in the work of Gertrude Stein, Wallace Thurman, William Faulkner, Black Arts poets, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and John Edgar Wideman. In Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus, Crawford adds images of skin color dilution as a type of castration to the field of race and psychoanalysis. An undercurrent of light-skinned blackness as a type of castration emerges within an ongoing story about the feminizing of light skin and the masculinizing of dark skin. Crawford confronts the web of beautified and eroticized brands and scars, created by colorism, crisscrossing race, gender, and sexuality. The depiction of the horror of these aestheticized brands and scars begins in the white-authored and black-authored modernist literature examined in the first chapters. A call for the end of the ongoing branding emerges with sheer force in the post–Black movement novels examined in the final chapters.

Margo Natalie Crawford is an associate professor in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts-Amherst.