Dissertation: Impurely Raced // Purely Erased

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This dissertation won NCA's 2009 and 2010 Outstanding Dissertation Awards.

This dissertation, Impurely Raced // Purely Erased: Toward a Rhetorical Theory of (Bi)Racial Passing, develops a theory about the interrelations between mixed race identification and passing as they pertain to the field of rhetoric and to United States slavery and segregation settings. I introduce the concept of (bi)racial passing to argue that passing is a form of rhetoric that identifies and represents passers intersectionally via synecdoche.

In Chapter One I introduce the rhetorical, cultural, and conceptual significances of passing based on a review of the literature. I introduce the central argument of the project by proposing a theory of (bi)racial passing that considers the problems and possibilities of mixed race representation and mobility as a bridge between Platonic episteme and Sophistic doxa as well as between the material and symbolic components of biracial categorization. Chapter Two considers the historical narrative of Ellen Craft at the intersection of synecdoche and irony to highlight and transgress real and imagined borders that stretch beyond a simple consideration of race. Taking up the issue of appropriation through a detailed critique of the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, my third chapter considers passing as an antecedent form of identity theft and as a form of resistance. In contrast to the cases examined in these chapters, my fourth chapter explores Harper’s Iola Leroy, as a fictional account of passing that ties synecdoche to eloquence, articulating the tension between the threat of passing contained in the Plessy ruling and its relation to contemporary attempts at measuring discrimination at the intersection of race, class, and gender.

My fifth chapter takes a turn by exploring the literary and cinematic versions of The Human Stain, as contemporary narratives of passing based on tragedy and synecdoche in the context of minstrel performance and Jim and Jane Crow segregation. My last chapter fleshes out the theory introduced in the first, working toward a theory of (bi)racial passing that rethinks inadequate dichotomies of episteme vs. doxa as well as white vs. black. Then, blending the critical race theory of intersectionality with rhetorical personae I explain the significances of synecdoche, metonymy, irony, appropriation, eloquence, and tragedy in the various instances of passing explored. At a theoretical level, I rethink the inadequate dichotomies of episteme vs. doxa as well as white vs. black. I conclude with a rhetorical theory of passing based on the fourth persona and 6 original passwords that present opportunities for future research.

2010 Miller Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award from NCA

Dr. Marcia Alesan Dawkins (Ph.D., 2009) has received a National Communication Association 2010 Gerald R. Miller Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award for her ground-breaking study of multiracial identity as rhetorical performance, entitled "“Impurely Raced//Purely Erased: Toward a Rhetorical Theory of (Bi)Racial Passing."

The Miller Award is given annually to the most outstanding dissertations in the communication discipline, regardless of area of specialization. No more than three may be awarded per year. Previously, Dawkins' dissertation had been similarly recognized by the African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus of NCA.

In his letter of nomination, Dr. Randall Lake, who directed Dawkins' study, described it as "a profoundly important, beautifully written tour-de-force": "With both conviction and grace, and with neither rancor nor preachiness, her work opens a profoundly meaningful space of creative agency 'along the color line' (as she styles it) in which it becomes possible to work through issues of race productively rather than, on one hand, perpetuating the domination of old racial epistemes of whiteness or, on the other hand, declaring these issues to be over, deus ex machina."

Dawkins' dissertation also was guided by Dr. G. Thomas Goodnight and Dr. George Sanchez (American Studies and Ethnicity). Dawkins is the eighth U.S.C. Annenberg Ph.D. to receive this honor since 1971, when the award was inaugurated. Previous winners include: Jack Ray, 1971 (Walter Fisher, director); Peter J. Marston, 1987 (Walter Fisher, Director); Rebecca S. Bjork, 1990 (Thomas Hollihan, Director); Barbara Louise Baker, 1991 (Walter Fisher, director); Greg L. Dickinson, 1995 (Randall Lake, Director); Daniel Cochece Davis (Michael Cody, director); and Paul Turpin, 2006 (Walter Fisher, director).

Loved reading it

Loved reading your dissertation. You are a brilliant woman. I read your entire work and it kept me mesmerized throughout. Gave me lots of room for thought. Thanks for sharing.

--Carol Brown

Outstanding Dissertation 2009 Award

Professor Dawkins:

Thank you for your submission for the Outstanding Book, Dissertation, Article or Book Chapter competition in the African American Communication and Culture Division (AACCD) of the National Communication Association (NCA). The reviews are in and I'm pleased to inform you that your submission won in your respective category. This year we had a healthy pool of submissions in several of the categories. Each submission underwent a review by three scholars in your particular area and the final decision was made by the awards committee chaired by me. Congratulations on this noteworthy scholarly achievement!

By winning the Outstanding Dissertation award, you agree to be present at the AACCD Business Meeting to receive your plaque and recognition. The AACCD Business meeting location, date and time can be located in the NCA Convention program.

I want to thank you for submitting your work to the AACCD division. I have included your submission in our annual bibliography this year that will be disseminated at the business meeting at NCA this year. I encourage you to continue submitting your work to the division in the future.

On behalf of the awards committee, congratulations on your outstanding scholarship.

Thank you again for your submission.

Shawn D. Long,
2nd Vice Chair, AACCD