"Hidden in plain sight" : loopholes of retreat in post-Katrina literature and performance
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This dissertation examines texts that articulate a temporary escape for Black Americans from today’s anti-Blackness. These sites, which I call “loopholes of retreat,” provide momentary bodily safety and critical distance that allow for an unearthing of new ways to counteract the cycle of anti-Blackness that has continued since slavery. I frame my project with a discussion of Harriet Jacobs’s narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the true account of Jacobs’s life as a slave and her journey to freedom by way of a tiny space she called her “loophole of retreat.” In 2005, the disablements to understanding, civic solidarity, and empathy--consequences of ongoing anti-Blackness--were revealed when Hurricane Katrina hit, largely affecting Black communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama due to a history of racial discrimination and segregation. I argue that in the contemporary moment, like Jacobs, people of color have managed to locate their own loopholes of retreat, working within them to challenge dominant ideologies and the political and social institutions that continue to punish, silence, and subjugate minority populations in America. These loopholes offer a peephole through which inhabitants can view the world from a relatively safe distance, “free” from the physical and psychological dangers of anti-Blackness. Here, the gaze shifts, allowing bodies of color to witness racist acts although they remain a target of racism. Building from Katherine McKittrick’s definition of the loophole as a paradoxical space, I posit that, removed from the outside world and looking at rather than participating in, one who occupies a contemporary loophole of retreat also exists in-between time, as they are neither forced to obey the standards of linear time nor are they completely removed from its existence. Here, history is alive, and the connections between the past, present, and future are palpable, embodied in the bodies of color that take refuge in the garret. As such, possibilities for new alternatives to anti-Blackness exist, alternatives that neither repeat the past nor completely reject its existence, but instead work within history to, ideally, change the future such that Black Americans are capable of more than just survival.