The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man

by James Weldon Johnson

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Explain how might we think of The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson as a queer text.

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I think that there are few assertions to be made on the outset.  The primary level of distinction in the work is one predicated upon race and racial identity.  This is not something that can be whittled away.  Lines such as, individuals of color "of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people know and understand them," help to bring this into total focus.  The idea of the narrator being obsessed with the issue of race and racial identity throughout the autobiography also helps to bring this into full light.  Yet, I think that the text can be seen as analogous to groups such as gay and lesbian and transgendered individuals with the idea of substituting sexual identity for race.  The notion of seeking to come to terms with being "different" in a society is something that can help make this work compatible works that analyze what it means to be different in a sexual sense from the cultural majority.  I think that this might be the only way that one can see this text as queer, in that we have to replace what is constructed as racial identity for that of sexual orientation.

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