In 2012, an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian entitled “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas” illuminated the experiences and history of a frequently overlooked multiracial group. This book redresses that erasure and contributes to the growing body of scholarship about people of mixed African and Indigenous ancestry in the United States. Yoking considerations of authenticity in Life Writing with questions of authenticity in relationship to mixed-race subjectivity, Cannon analyzes how Black Native Americans navigate narratives of racial and ethnic authenticity through a variety of autobiographical forms. Through close readings of scrapbooks by Sylvester Long Lance, oral histories from Black Americans formerly enslaved by American Indians, the music of Jimi Hendrix, photographs of contemporary Black Indians, and the performances of former Miss Navajo Radmilla Cody, Cannon argues that people who straddle Black and Indigenous identities in the United States unsettle biological, political, and cultural metrics of racial authenticity. The creative ways that Afro-Native American people have negotiated questions of belonging, authenticity, and representation in the past 120 years testify to the empowering possibilities of expanding definitions of autobiography.
Sarita Cannon is professor of English at San Francisco State University.
List of Figures
Introduction: Authenticating Narratives
Chapter 1: Rogue Self-Inscription: The Scrapbooks of Long Lance
Chapter 2: Navigating and Reshaping Authenticity: WPA Black Indian Slave Narratives
Chapter 3: Red, Black, and Blue: Jimi Hendrix’s Musical Self-Expression
Chapter 4: Shooting Lives: Black Indians as Photographers and Subjects
Chapter 5: Performing Race, Nation, and Self: The Life and Work of Radmilla Cody
Coda: “Too Many Masters to Serve”
About the Author
In Black-Native Autobiographical Acts: Navigating the Minefields of Authenticity, Sarita Cannon tackles vexed questions about hybrid identities, in particular, Black-Native subjectivities that have their own complex historical, geographical, and political histories. She examines a variety of verbal-visual-aural autobiographical forms from the early 20th century to today, looking for how African-Indian Americans navigate fraught stories of racial, ethnic, and cultural authenticity. Historically and culturally informed, nuanced, and brilliant, Cannon’s insights into and close readings (of Long Lance, WPA Black-Indian Slave narratives, Jimi Hendrix, Black-Indian photography, and a Black-Indian Miss Navajo) contribute a vital intersectional perspective to Autobiography Studies and Ethnic Studies.
Black-Native Autobiographical Acts: Navigating the Minefields of Authenticity lies at the intersection of Native American and African American Studies and provides an urgent contribution to the field of mixed-race studies, one that invites critical engagement beyond a Black-white racial binary. In this arresting, interdisciplinary study, Dr. Sarita Cannon draws upon performance studies, cultural studies, and critical race approaches to examine Black-Native subjects’ autobiographical self-representation strategies. Cannon’s analysis extends the contours of traditional autobiography beyond the print text and positions Black-Native subjects’ subversive acts as self-inscription and self-definition. This book is an invaluable resource for understanding Black-Native subjectivities, while also mapping the complexities of racial identity formation.