Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

John L. Jackson

Second Advisor

Betsy R. Rymes

Abstract

From the colonization of the “Dark Continent,” to the global industry that turned black bodies into chattel, to the total absence of modern Africa from most American public school curricula, to superfluous representations of African primitivity in mainstream media, to the unflinching state-sanctioned murders of unarmed black people in the Americas, antiblackness and anti-black racism have been part and parcel to modernity, swathing centuries and continents, and seeping into the tiny spaces and moments that constitute social reality for most black-identified human beings. The daily living and theorizing of a small group of twenty-something young people from Liberia provide the marrow of this traditional and virtual ethnographic inquiry into everyday formulations of race via processes of “black semiosis.” As the analytical keynote of the text, black semiosis points us to the processes through which meaning is made about blackness (i.e., how signs are inscribed with racialized meanings and how these signs are deployed on various scales), and it asks that we consider how meaning-making processes and strategies are conditioned by, or made through, blackness (i.e., how the experience of being raced as black codifies ways of making meaning). Specifically, the text uses cultural, linguistic, and semiotic anthropological approaches to examine young transnational Liberians’ productions of verbal and visual “mashups” in face-to-face interactions and online; their theoretical and embodied constructions of gendered and classed models of “sincere” black personhood via hip hop and other globalized phenomena; and their comprehensive semiotic strategies for navigating racialized school structures and discourses in the United States. From their actions, abstractions, and aspirations, I assemble a rendering of black diasporic/transnational subject-formation that yields a keener understanding of the ways black pasts, presents, and futures are currently being made and unmade by a new generation.

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