Songs for red dust and black clay
Byars-Nichols, Keely Anne
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This project examines the figure of the black Indian in the work of six significant American writers: John Marrant, Herman Melville, Elizabeth Stoddard, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Leslie Marmon Silko. The complex relationships between Native Americans and African Americans, while sufficiently explored by historians, are under-examined in American literary productions. The texts studied here, ranging from eighteenth-century to twenty-first-century in origin, represent diverse perspectives about black Indians. The black Indian characters I examine use masks, costumes, or other performative tools in their demonstration of how such cultural and racial markers can become conflated. Thus, my study of this literature concludes that, like the performance of race in general, representations of black Indians are varied and complex and often reflective of stereotypical, racist perceptions of both groups. However, I show that just as often as these characters reinforce or are subjected to simplistic depictions of their identities, they just as often use their multiply rooted identities as a means to gain freedom and agency.