By Stephanie Leigh Batiste
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21 Through masking and misdirection African Americans have managed to express subjectivity, a sense of their own humanness, and concern about American race relations in theater. Theorists of black identity in the West have used performance constructs to define the nature of blackness in everyday life. What becomes clear is that blackness itself is a performance and poses the opportunity for performance to become a means of constructing identity. Strategies of a performative black masking are suggested by W.
African American representations of western domestication are distinctive in their maintenance of a constant balance between “closed” urban spaces and “open” westerly ones. Urban performance styles, bodies, technologies, and identities emphasize the constant exchange and geographical interconnectedness of black culture. These films visualize a geography of African American national belonging that reorients black life in the United States from trajectories of south-to-north and rural-to-urban to a relationship between urban and west, forcing typical meanings of expansion to reverberate in the construction of black national identity.
In dominant iconography 28 of the West, the landscape invited the inscription of new lives and desires. A harsh environment served as a reflection of the internal mettle of the men who tamed it, rugged, strong, reliable, and enduring. Everything western opposed eastern industrialized culture, with its teeming crowds, overcivility, alienated labor, and mixed multitudes of immigrants and Negroes. The West was pure and regenerative. Imaginations of the West rebelled against industrialization, thus rejecting the city, yet also mourned the loss of a dying frontier, symbolized in the death and disappearance of native people who were both noble savages and dangerous enemies.