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Robert Patterson

February 6 @ 11:30 am - 1:00 pm

Whitney Houston’s Destructive Desires: Rhythm and Blues Culture and the Politics of Racial Equality

This talk argues that 1980s and 1990s rhythm and blues culture provides imaginative space to reject neo-liberal and personal responsibility philosophies that root black inequality in black people’s choices in general and in non-normative family structures in particular.  It juxtaposes R&B music’s discourses about love, marriage, and family—what it more generally phrases “black intimate relations”—against socio-political explanations for and solutions to black inequality to disrupt the tendency to privilege behavioral explanations of inequality and to diminish/ignore how structural barriers impede black people from achieving equality.  In making this claim, the talk analyzes how rhythm and blues culture reimagines possibilities for kinship that necessarily upset behavioral solutions to back inequality.  Through an analysis of several “moments” in the career of the late Whitney Houston, including how Arista Records molded her public image, the public concern with her dating life, and the aesthetics of her musical production, I argue that the post-civil rights era calls for assimilation and acculturation divert the ways the race, sex, gender, and class continue to shape black politics and political desires in the post-civil rights era. By disrupting the tendency to privilege social scientific forms of inquiry in analyses of black inequality, the talk demonstrates how arts and black artistic production continues to serve as an important site for the making of black politics.


February 6
11:30 am - 1:00 pm