Book Review: “Black Feelings: Race and Affect in the Long Sixties”

I was reluctant to open Lisa M. Corrigan’s “Black Feelings: Race and Affect in the Long Sixties” (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). By reading it, I knew I would have to confront my own Black feelings that I have buried since the deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. This book excavated the many emotions I felt inside, ones shared with my people, Black people, for a long time. Corrigan’s work identifies and explicitly describes Black emotion in the 1960s and its effect on the current American climate.

Corrigan is an associate professor of Communication at the University of Arkansas, where she serves as Director of the Gender Studies Program and is affiliated with both the African & African American Studies and Latin American Studies programs. She studies Black power, the civil rights movement, prison studies, and feminism, among other topics.

Corrigan’s thought-provoking analysis of emotion intertwines with the politics, race relations, and prominent figures that are tied to the 1960s. At the beginning of the book, she introduces poet Ameer (Amiri) Baraka’s foundational essay, “We Are Our Feeling: The Black Aesthetic.” Baraka writes, “We are our feeling. We are our feeling ourselves. Our selves are our feelings.”

With this passage, Baraka connects the concept of Black feelings to the identity of Black people. Corrigan then introduces other key historical moments to identify sentiments and race relations, such as President John Kennedy’s presidential campaign, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the Black Panther Party’s rise to prominence. Her objective is to “trace the surging optimism of the Kennedy administration through the Black Power era’s powerful circulation of black pessimism to understand how black feelings constituted a terrain of political struggle for black meaning, representation, and political agency.”

However, optimism and pessimism are not the only emotions she explores. Belonging, despair, shame, and rage are among the feelings that she examines, all interwoven in the 1960s push for equality, progress, and Black identity. Corrigan also discusses the proximity of Blackness to whiteness. She describes whiteness as “fundamentally derived from and through shame about fidelity to antiblackness, but it is also produced through claims about being aggravated by black people.” This concept describes the deliberate, faithfulness to American structures created to uplift one race and represses another. Moreover, it details the loathing expressed by many whites towards black citizens.

Headshot/portrait of Lisa Corrigan
Lisa M. Corrigan, Ph.D., studies Black power, the civil rights movement, prison studies, and feminism. (Photo courtesy University of Arkansas)

“Black Feelings: Race and Affect in the Long Sixties” is an excellent account of the history, emotions, race relations, and consequences of that period, as well as contemporary life. Let me be clear; she is not telling me how to feel or how Black people should feel or what we feel in this current political space. She elaborates on the emotions of Black people that are entwined with specific events in the 1960s. Corrigan’s informative and honest tone creates a sense of trust for me as a reader. She references numerous scholars, poets, and political figures throughout the work. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the complexity of the 1960s and the disillusion of progress, a legacy we face today.

This book provided a clear historical context for how I was feeling. I felt rage for the death of another unarmed Black soul. I was discouraged, disgusted, and pessimistic, all emotions that Corrigan analyzed in her book. Black Feelings reminded me that my feelings are important because, as Baraka declares, I am the embodiment of them. I am my Black feelings.

Neba Evans
Neba Evans

Neba Evans is an Associate Producer at Arkansas PBS and alum of the School of Journalism and Strategic Media graduate program at the University of Arkansas. She is finishing a documentary on Black life in Pine Bluff, Ark.