Kirt Wilson

Faculty Spring 2021: Kirt H. Wilson

Imitation’s Racialization in the Midst of Anglo-American Empire, 1865 – 1920

Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences

Dr. Wilson’s project explores the historical and rhetorical terrain through which the meaning and practice of “imitation” was racialized in the midst of Anglo-American empire. He argues that imitation (mimesis and imitation in various intellectual traditions) became a contested concept in the long, transatlantic Nineteenth Century. Through the discourse of white elites, the claim that people of color, especially Black Americans, were talented imitators of Anglo-culture but incapable of appropriating that culture entered the public consciousness. The rhetoric that supported this claim not only created a powerful racist stereotype, it also shaped the sliding signifier of race such that inherent racial differences remained commonsense even as communities of color established their social and political power in a “post-slavery” world. Through the interpretive analysis of print media, the private correspondence of scientists and educators, and the documents of colonial administrators, Wilson explains how imitation’s racialization kept people of color in a subaltern position after legal emancipation in the United States, Great Britain, and throughout the Anglo-American Empire.