Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Deborah Plant, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Shirley Toland-Dix, Ph.D

Committee Member

Kersuze Simeon-Jones, Ph.D.


race, ontology, subaltern, literary theory, spoken word, performance poetry


The contemporary experiences of racially marginalized people in the West are affected deeply by the hegemonic capitalist Orthodox cultural codes, or episteme, in which blackness operates as the symbol of Chaos. As it relates to people of African descent, these affects are marked by a denial of the black person's full status as an unproblematic subject, by ontological voids arising from the practice of enslavement over the past centuries, and by problems of representation within the West, where examples and points of reference for black identity are always tied up with conflicting interests.

Utilizing Sylvia Wynter's model of the Ceremony as one means of describing the ways in which blacks in the West maneuver the extant psychological and philosophical perils of race in the Western world, I argue that the history of black responses to the West's ontological violence is alive and well, particularly in art forms like spoken word, where the power to define/name oneself is of paramount importance. Focusing on how art shaped black responses to ontologically debilitating circumstances, I argue that there has always existed a model for liberation within African American culture and tradition.

This work takes an approach that is philosophical and theoretical in nature in order to address the wide breadth of the black experience that lies beyond the realm of statistics. The goal of this approach is to continue the work of unraveling hidden or under-discussed aspects of the black experience in order to more clearly find possibilities for addressing problems in the construction of race and marginalized people within the Western episteme. This work attempts to redefine the struggle for a healthier ontology within the framework of a process of liberation that transcends Orthodox limitations on the marginalized subject.