We should regard the text as the only source of meaning, argued Wimsatt and Beardsley in 1946. The details of the author's life are extrinsic, irrelevant to the task of interpretation. “What does it matter who is speaking, someone said.” Michel Foucault said that Samuel Beckett said that, without really establishing why that mattered. Jean Genet, more than a half century ago, asked, in a preamble to The Blacks, “What is a black? First of all, what's his color?”
Recitative: “How You Sound”
In March of 2012, a mother contacted the administrators of George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, with a complaint about one of her son’s teachers.
Among the readings for the graduate seminar in black philosophy and theory that my students and I completed not long ago were the collected writings of philosopher and artist Adrian Piper, in which, among so many other projects, she reproduces the calling card she had printed up for use in one of her on-going projects from the 1970s. Because Piper is, as we so deftly put it in America, a light-skinned black person, she has had the experience of being in a group of white people and hearing one of them tell a racist joke. She had cards printed up that she would present to the tellers of such jokes, cards that explained that she was in fact a black person and that she found the telling of the joke objectionable. This was not merely a personal campaign, you must understand, but was a sort of philosophical theater, for the presentation of the card was not simply a means to carry out a personal fight with racism.
[N.B. : My dear editors have pointed out a problem with my using this image for the commentary's header, which is to say that the black background obscures my name and the column's title. As someone who has lived with an obscure name lo these many years, I would have been willing to chance it, but in the interests of consistency of style across our Jackets I have replaced the banner with another. The image lives on here, however, hovering over all that shall soon follow.]
I’m going to start simply by telling the story of this image.
Anna Everett was a young woman from Washington, D.C., who moved to Buffalo, N.Y., in the early 1970s to live with relatives while finishing her high school education. As a new student, she was sent to Lafayette High School, which was only then being integrated. If you’ve read about the integration and bussing battles of that era, you can well imagine the challenges she faced. There weren't attacks on school buses by angry mobs as in Boston, but there were groups of white parents picketing the approach to the school and making it abundantly clear to the small group of black students that they were not welcomed by all. With all deliberate speed, Everett set about making her mark at Lafayette.