The Racial Politics of Imitation in the Nineteenth Century

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Abstract

This essay examines the ways in which imitation, as a concept and as a practice, was caught up in the nineteenth century's racial politics. Theoretically, it argues that the interpretation of mimêsis labels the imitator and either sustains or reconstitutes power relations within the context of mimetic performance. Historically, the essay contends that during the nineteenth century, and especialy after the Civil War, black imitation threatened the dominant systems of white power. European Americans interpreted black mimêsis as a primitive instinct, the sign of an inferior "other." Conversely, African Americans used imitation to exercise their liberty and pursue civil rights. Frederick Douglass viewed imitation as a progressive force in public life, and his conceptualization represents an alternative to the reductive construct that existed at the beginning of the twentieth century and continues today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-108
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
Volume89
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education

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