Oxford Events Calendar

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Within the Frame: Recentering the Black Child in the History of American Ch

7 March @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Childhood and Youth Network Event

Speaker: Dr Dr Camille Owens, Assistant Professor in Literature and Cultural Studies at McGill University.

Scholars of African American childhood often use terms like marginalization, exclusion, and dehumanization to name the historical (and ongoing) processes of social violence that have located black children in the United States vis-à-vis white children, white power, and human regard. These terms help to capture the patterned denial of resources and care afforded to black children, and the surplus violence directed toward them. While this framing of marginalization has been both critically illuminating and politically vital, in its prevalence, it has unwittingly made it harder to see a contradictory pattern of equal importance to understanding black childhood and white power: not just the denial of resources to black children, but the extraction of resources, labor, and value from them; and not the exclusion of black children, but the possessive investment of white Americans in black children’s embodied, social, and cultural forms. Taken from my forthcoming book,Like Children: Black Prodigy and the Measure of the Human in America (NYU Press, 2024) this paper draws upon nineteenth-century archives of black children’s performances, cultural representations, and labor, to illustrate the patterned use of black children in the construction of white childhood, in the empowerment of white men, and in the measure of the human. Ultimately, this paper calls for a reframing of black childhood in critical historical perspective, and considers multiple ramifications for the broader study of American childhood that follow from recognizing black children at its center.

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TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities
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