HENK00002U  English, 2017 curriculum - Free topic 2: Arab is the new black?: Arab American Literature and Racial Ambivalence + What Was/Is African American Literature

Volume 2017/2018

Arab is the new black?: Arab American Literature and Racial Ambivalence

After 9/11 the presence of Arabs in America, a hitherto relatively ‘invisible’ ethnic community, came under heavy public scrutiny. Arab Americans are a highly diverse community, ethnically and religiously, and yet the widespread (and fearful) association of Arabness with Islam resulted in heightened levels of discrimination and even physical attacks against anyone perceived to be Arab. Many activists and critics thus began to wonder if ‘Arab’ had become the new black. Our course will take up this view as a point of departure, but question easy assumptions of monolithic ‘blackness,’ ‘Arabness’ and various forms of literary expression associated with them. Neither the presence of Arab Americans nor discrimination against them is a ‘new’ phenomenon. On the contrary, ranging from 19th century African Arab slave narratives to post 9/11 Arab American feminist novels, literature has been a primary vehicle for Arab American self-expression in the face of discrimination, which in turn is deeply rooted in an orientalist perception of Arab Otherness that permeates US (popular) culture. And yet, Arab Americans have also enjoyed the racial privilege of being legally white, albeit ‘culturally’ not quite white, in the US American black/white color scheme. Rather then approaching discrimination as a zero sum game, pitching Blackness against Arabness, the course will explore the lesser known beginnings of Arab American literatures and their relations to US racialization.

The class thus invites comparative perspectives with African American literature if you choose both modules of the course, but it can also be taken as a standalone module. Themes will include:

  • How have race and racial ambivalence defined the Arab American experience? Can the racialization of Arabs be compared to African American experiences?
  • How can ‘Arab’ American literature be defined in the face of Arab ethnic diversity? How does Arab American literature relate to orientalist popular culture?  And how does it negotiate the tension between racial privilege and orientalist racializing?
  • What role does gender play in Arab American literature, past and present? How do stereotypes about oppressed ‘muslimwomen’ limit/challenge/impact Arab American women writers?
  • How does Arab American literature relate to the US multi-ethnic literary landscape and to women of color feminisms?


What Was/Is African American Literature?

Kenneth Warren’s book What Was African American Literature? (2011) has received considerable attention—and no little criticism--for proposing not only that “African American literature” emerged mostly in response to the structures and ideology of U.S. racism, but also that the term applies only to a particular historical period and no longer holds today. In this course, we will use Warren’s argument as a starting point for a discussion of the formation, revision, desegregation, diversification, and possible disintegration of “African American literature.” We will read a range of canonical and non-canonical literary texts from the early twentieth century to the present. Course themes will include:

  • The legacies of slavery in definitions of African American literature, from the slave narrative to the “neo-slave narrative”
  • Black writers’ response to racism, from “racial uplift” narratives to calls for revolutionary resistance
  • The role of the Great Migration, especially from the rural South to the urban North, in reshaping African American experience and African American literature
  • Categorization and periodization of African American literature: i.e., the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, African American women’s writing
  • The role and representation of mixed racial and biracial identity in African American life and literature, from tropes of the “tragic mulatto” to more recent narratives in the “age of Obama”
  • How ideas of transnationalism, diaspora, Pan-Africanism, and the Black Atlantic have challenged “African American exceptionalism” (Paul Gilroy) and complicated definitions of “African American literature” as confined within the U.S. nation state
  • How questions of genre (fiction, short stories, slave and neo-slave narratives, autobiographies, poetry, plays, essays, experimental writing) and publication form have shaped definitions of African American literature


Recent debates over “post-racial” or “post-black” identity, and how it may or may not relate to debates over the end of “African American literature”

Arab is the new black?: Arab American Literature and Racial Ambivalence

Reading list:

In addition to essential theoretical readings like Edward Said’s Orientalism we will depart from two recent key works in Arab American Studies: Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects, edited by Amaney A. Jamal, Nadine Christine Naber, and Therí Pickens’ New Body Politics: Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States.

Primary sources may include:

  • the African Arab slave narrative The Life of Omar Ibn Said (1831)
  • the first prominent literary production of the Syrian American Mahjar generation, Ameen Rihani’s The Book of Khalid (1911)
  • Rosemary Hakim’s Arabian Antipodes (1956) and William Blatty’s Which Way to Mecca, Jack? (1957), narratives that emerged during the phases of supposed Arab American invisibility in the 1950s
  • Diana Abu-Jaber’s seminal novel Arabian Jazz (1993)
  • Mohja Kahf’s Arab American feminist novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2006)
  • Rabih Alameddine’s postmodern take on the Arabian Nights in his novel The Hakawati (2008)
  • Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account (2014).


What Was/Is African American Literature

Provisional reading list (NB: this is only a sample list of predominantly primary texts, and so subject to change/confirmation):

  • Kenneth Warren, What Was African American Literature? (2011)
  • James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)
  • George Schuyler, Black No More (1931)
  • Richard Wright, Black Boy (1945)
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Seraph on the Suwanee (1948)
  • James Baldwin, Another Country (1961)
  • Leroi Jones, Dutchman/The Slave (1964)
  • Alice Walker, Meridian (1976)
  • Toni Morrison, Tar Baby (1980)
  • Heidi Durrow, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2011) (Algonquin Books)
  • Yaa Ngyasi, Homegoing (2016)
Classes, with particular emphasis on reading primary and secondary texts, oral discussion and developing proficiency in English.
Arab is the new black?: Arab American Literature and Racial Ambivalence will be taught in weeks 37-44, four hours/week and What Was/Is African American Literature will be taught in weeks 44-50, four hours/week.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 353,5
  • Total
  • 409,5
Type of assessment
Portfolio, A joint portfolio for both courses uploaded in digital exam: Deadline January 10th 2018
• First coursework essay (5-7 standard pages) relating to “Arab Is the New Black?” To be submitted after the final class (i.e., after the final class on the course). Deadline late October/early November (approx, TBC) 25% of the final grade
• Second coursework essay (5-7 standard pages) relating to “What Was/Is African American Literature?.” To be submitted after the final class (i.e., halfway through the semester). Deadline: mid-December (approx, TBC) 25% of the final grade
• Closing conference presentation: the course will conclude with a student conference covering both courses (“What Was/Is African American Literature” and “Arab Is the New Black?”). Students will be organized into thematic panels of approximately 60 minutes each featuring individual presentations by each student of 10 minutes each: all students are also expected to attend all sessions and participate in the Q&A portion (the final 10 minutes) of each panel. The individual presentations may focus on either of the courses, or combine material from both courses; however, they may not recapitulate material or themes already discussed in the two coursework essays. Each student’s conference presentation theme/coverage must also be approved by the teacher(s) following consultation and the submission of an abstract and bibliography prior to the conference itself. The conference will take place in December (approx., TBC) and the deadline for submission of the synopsis, including research questions and bibliography is one week before. 50% of the final grade
Criteria for exam assesment