Problems of Feeling: Affect, Social Power, and Contingency in Black American Life

“Whereas Du Bois famously asked, "How does it feel to be a problem?" I want to reverse Du Bois and ask, how does "the problem" feel? ”

Team Members/Contributors

Leonard Curry Vanderbilt University Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina while members gathered for study and prayer. He sat with them for about an hour, participating in their usual mid-week service. Roof then opened fire, killing nine church members, wounded one who “played dead,” missed one, shielded by her grandmother’s body, and purposefully left one alive to tell the story. Mrs. Pinckney, who was in an office, hid with her daughter and called 911. Mrs. Pinckney and her daughter, Felicia Sanders and her granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard survived the attack. Two days later, on Friday, June 19, 2015, at the hearing to set Roof's bond, Nadine Collier, a daughter of the recently deceased Ethel Lance, told Roof, through closed-circuit camera and screen, that she forgave him. In so doing, Nadine Collier shocked the world. This dissertation is an investigation into, and meditation upon, Nadine Collier and her offer of forgiveness. It reads black studies to interrogate the theorization of affect in an effort to create something "fitting" (a la Niebuhr) for black American life. This dissertation traces various histories in order to tell a robust narrative regarding the role of forgiveness in black American Christianity. Those investigations examine forgiveness in black theological, social, and moral thought; forgiveness as a theme in black theological work; and a genealogy of the affective labor of black women's public witness. This dissertation also examines the philosophy-theology of forgiveness, particularly the concept of a "forgiveness worthy of it's name," examining Derrida, Bishop Butler, and others on the idea of (impossible) forgiveness. Finally, I turn to Collier herself, seeing her as simultaneously agential and affectively structured. In this, I will say something about the kind of existential politics that racism demands, and the way that Collier, in Christian theological reasoning, flouts that racial-existential politic.