Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level





Susan Marren

Committee Member

Calvin White

Second Committee Member

Benjamin Fagan


Black, Film, Popular Literature, Reality TV, Social Class


My project presses to include popular fiction, television, and film for serious critical consideration. To contextualize my research, I use theories that critically examine popular literature, connecting to the work of Janice Radway and Keenan Norris, and I study the African-American focus on class as explored by E. Franklin Frazier. In focusing on the popular, I highlight the everydayness of class and race anxieties. I build on Gwendolyn Foster’s work on class passing but stress racial intersections with identity performance. I rely on New Historicism and Critical Race Theory to substantiate my examination of the literature. I look at specific moments in black America in the latter 20th century as inspiring literary responses to class concerns. My research contributes to the cultural discourse on respectability politics and racial uplift. Challenging the class focus of African-Americans, through literature, television, and film, I seek to reenergize discussions on the routes to black equality in America and contest notions of “making it” advanced by some cultural critics. My approach undermines the idea that class performances including, sartorial presentation, linguistic codeswitching, and distance from racial justice conversations can cover racial realities. The historical focus on lifting and climbing to a better American experience has attenuated the African-American community’s power and my project intervenes in the discourse on the best path forward. In concentrating on the hollowness of “making it,” I hope to encourage a re-prioritization of holistic racial uplift over respectability politics and class.