|Abstract:||Black American cosmopolitan artists, writers, and performers enjoy a strong, yet underappreciated, history dating back to the nineteenth century. This case study seeks to shed light on the recent history of twentieth-century black feminist narratives of artists and performers, living out a cosmopolitan existence in a transnational and postcolonial context, in France, Italy, England, and Mexico. Although living outside of the U.S. in pursuit of racial equality and economic opportunity, each woman uses artistic expression to critically engage the notion of American citizenship, negatively impacted by Jim Crow segregation laws and institutional racism more generally. By employing an intersectional analysis of black women’s narratives, I provide insight into black women’s diverse, yet also similar, set of experiences, all the while highlighting common themes related to liminal U.S. citizenship, including trauma and resilience.
From the narratives that comprise this case study, I craft a unique approach to transformative learning that incorporates the humanist literary genre of the Bildungsroman, or novel of self-formation. However, given the focus on traditionally marginalized black female subjects, I broaden a historically narrow usage of the genre to include feminist and postcolonial frameworks. From this revised understanding of the genre, then, I examine themes of black feminist self-becoming, or growth rooted in black women’s self-healing, expression, and resilience informed by the works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and others.
Significantly, this case study of black feminist postcolonial narratives makes theoretical contributions to the fields of black feminist studies and transformative learning. The intended outcome of this research for black feminist studies is to materialize an intersectional analysis of self-becoming, cosmopolitanism, American citizenship, creative and expressive output, and self-determination. The intended outcome of this research for transformative learning, which historically privileges Western epistemological perspectives on ethics and self-development, is to broaden current perspectives on the processes of transformation, rooted in black feminist narratives of being and becoming.