Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

David L. Eng

Abstract

At the intersection of critical race theory and affect studies, Dissenting Flesh examines social and political shifts from strong emotions to ambiguous affects, from human subjects to uncanny objects, and from discourse to materiality in contemporary African American and Asian American writings. Dissenting Flesh connects these changing modes of racialized form, feeling, and being to a longer history of American liberalism that claims, to quote Justice John Harlan’s dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), “our constitution is colorblind.” This dissertation explores how the law’s abstraction of race into neutral skin color has historically been used not to alleviate but rather to obscure the workings of structural racism. By tracing a new genealogy of colorblind racism that precedes and endures after civil rights, Dissenting Flesh demonstrates that colorblindness is not merely a contemporary phenomenon but rather an abiding logic of U.S. law and empire meant to sever subjects from their bodies and histories. Across each chapter, Dissenting Flesh argues that flesh has the potential to disrupt this logic by indexing ongoing processes of racial dispossession in tactile, affective, and material forms. By envisioning the potential of flesh to incite change, this dissertation aims to put forth new methods of dissenting with, and repairing the effects of, an entrenched form of liberal racism. Dissenting Flesh insists, in the process, that combating colorblind racism requires a framework of comparative race. By bringing the model minority paradigm to bear upon Black studies and Black feminist theories of flesh to bear upon Asian American studies, Dissenting Flesh explores how and why liberalism sorts Asian Americans and African Americans into its most prized legal and cultural fictions of racial justice.

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Available to all on Sunday, September 14, 2025

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