Using the term “exodus politics” to theorize the valorization of black male leadership in the movement for civil rights, Robert J. Patterson explores the ways in which the political strategies and ideologies of this movement paradoxically undermined the collective enfranchisement of black people. He argues that by narrowly conceptualizing civil rights in only racial terms and relying solely on a male figure, conventional African American leadership, though frequently redemptive, can also erode the very goals of civil rights.
The author turns to contemporary African American writers such as Ernest Gaines, Gayl Jones, Alice Walker, and Charles Johnson to show how they challenge the dominant models of civil rights leadership.
He draws on a variety of disciplines―including black feminism, civil rights history, cultural studies, and liberation theology―in order to develop a more nuanced formulation of black subjectivity and politics.
Patterson’s connection of the concept of racial rights to gender and sexual rights allows him to illuminate the literature’s promotion of more expansive models. By considering the competing and varied political interests of black communities, these writers reimagine the dominant models in a way that can empower communities to be self-sustaining in the absence of a messianic male leader.
Dr. Patterson is an Associate Professor of English and African American Studies, and Director of the African American Studies Program at Georgetown University. His book, Exodus Politics: Civil Rights and Leadership African American Literature and Culture (UVA Press, 2013), argues that African American literature written after the civil rights movement challenges society’s tendencies to think of civil rights solely in terms of race, to deem black male leadership as necessary for civil rights attainment, and to contain the scope of the civil rights movement to the fifteen year period between 1963-1968.
In addition to this project, Dr. Patterson has published articles on W.E.B. Dubois, Toni Morrison, African American Women’s Writing,Tyler Perry’s films. Some of his work appears in South Atlantic Quarterly Black Camera, Religion and Literature, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, and the Cambridge Companion to Civil Rights Literature. He co-guest edited a special edition of South Atlantic Quarterly, Black Literature, Black Leadership (112.2).
Extending his interest scholarly interests in the post-civil rights era, black popular culture, and the politics of gender, he also has begun to work on a second book project, Destructive Desires: Black Popular Culture and the Intimacy of Politics, which analyzes the various ways that African Americans used popular and expressive culture to negotiate racial politics in the 20th and 21st centuries. He is also co-editing a book, The Psychic Hold of Slavery, which is an interdisciplinary collection of scholarly essays that considers why and how slavery still matters.