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Postracial Resistance

Black Women, Media, and the Uses of Strategic Ambiguity

By Ralina L. Joseph

How Black women in the spotlight negotiate the post-racial gaze of Hollywood and beyond

From Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Shonda Rhimes to their audiences and the industry workers behind the scenes, Ralina L. Joseph considers the way that Black women are required to walk a tightrope. Do they call out racism only to face accusations of being called “racists”? Or respond to racism in code only to face accusations of selling out? Postracial Resistance explores how African American women celebrities, cultural producers, and audiences employ postracial discourse—the notion that race and race-based discrimination are over and no longer affect people’s everyday lives—to refute postracialism itself. In a world where they’re often written off as stereotypical “Angry Black Women,” Joseph offers that some Black women in media use “strategic ambiguity,” deploying the failures of post-racial discourse to name racism and thus resist it.

In Postracial Resistance, Joseph listens to and observes Black women as they perform and negotiate race in strategic ambiguity. Using three methods of media analysis—textual readings of the media's representation of these women; interviews with writers, producers, and studio executives; and audience ethnographies of young women viewers—Joseph maps the tensions and strategies that all Black women must engage to challenge the racialized sexism of everyday life, on- and off-screen.

Learn more about Postracial Resistance in this interview.

First Book

Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial (Duke University Press, 2013), critiques anti-Black racism in mixed-race African American representations in the decade leading up to Obama’s 2008 election. Listen to an interview about Transcending Blackness on Seattle’s NPR affiliate, KUOW.

Select Popular Writing


Thank you, Michelle Obama, for your book’s hard truths about the post-racial myth

Michelle Obama is showing us the need for difficult and essential conversations about race.

Read the story on The Seattle Times.

Don’t Forget About Serena

Reddit founder and Serena Williams’s partner Alexis Ohanian succinctly pointed out the double standard between the public acceptance versus the public outcry over our new Supreme Court justice’s anger and Williams’s at the U.S. Open, Tweeting, “it’s not funny, it’s bullshit.” Maybe we can now shift our focus onto precisely why and how Serena was disciplined from emoting while Kavanaugh was lauded for his emotional outbursts. So why, outside of bad tennis calls, might Serena be angry?Read the story on NYU Press blog.

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What's the Difference with Difference

In this essay, Dr. Joseph briefly trace various discourses surrounding tolerance, multiculturalism, and diversity, before moving to difference to think to equity.

To watch talk version of article, click here.

Respectability Politics and Shonda Rhimes, a Black Woman Showrunner

Black women’s visibility on television has undergone a sea change because of television showrunner Shonda Rhimes.

Read the story on Black Perspectives.

Guest: The fury over a Cheerios ad and an interracial family

Published on The Seattle Times

The response to a Cheerios TV ad exposes American discomfort with interracial families, writes guest columnist Ralina Joseph.

Read the story on The Seattle Times.

Columns on Oprah for FLOW

Dec. 2013 - March 2014

Considering how the media morphed Oprah into Angry Black Woman during the 2013 Swiss handbag “incident”. Read more.

Reading the media spin on Oprah’s handbag scandal of 2013. Read more.

Considers how Oprah Winfrey’s public negotiations of race and gender-based discrimination can inform audiences about speaking back. Read more.

Select Academic Writing

Miranda Banks, Ralina L. Joseph, Shelley Stamp, and Michele White. “Editors’ Introduction: Genealogies of Feminist Media Studies.”  Feminist Media Histories. Vol. 4. No. 2, Spring 2018, pp. 1-11.

Ralina L. Joseph. “What’s the Difference with ‘Difference’?: Equity, Communication, and the Politics of Difference.” International Journal of Communication. Vol 11, 2017, pp. 3306-3326.

Ralina L. Joseph and Jane Rhodes, “Introduction” Special Issue, “African American Representation and the Politics of Respectability.”  Eds. Jane Rhodes and Ralina L. Joseph.  SOULS: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society.  Vol 18, No. 4, Fall 2016.

Ralina L. Joseph. “Reading Strategically Ambiguous Shonda Rhimes: Respectability Politics of a Black Woman Showrunner.” Special Issue, “African American Representation and the Politics of Respectability.”  Eds. Jane Rhodes and Ralina L. Joseph.  SOULS: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society.  Vol 18, No. 4, Fall 2016.

Manoucheka Celeste, Sara Diaz, Angela Ginorio, and Ralina L. Joseph.  “A Survival Story: Negotiating the Institutional and Material Through Collectivity.”  In S.M.B Givens and K.E. Tassie (Eds.), Claiming a Seat at the Table: Feminism, Underserved Women of Color, Voice, and Resistance.  Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014.

Ralina L. Joseph.  “Multiracial and Multiethnic Identities.”  Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education. Sage Publications. 2012.

Ralina L. Joseph.  “Imagining Obama: Reading Overtly and Inferentially Racist Images of Our 44th President, 2007-2008.” Communication Studies.  Vol. 62, No. 4, September 2011.

 Ralina L. Joseph.  “‘Hope is Finally Making a Comeback’: First Lady Reframed."  Communication, Culture and Critique Vol. 4 No. 1, March 2011.

 Ralina L. Joseph.  “Tyra Banks Is Fat: Reading (Post-) Racism and (Post-)Feminism in the New Millennium.”  Critical Studies in Media Communication. Vol. 26 No. 3. Fall 2009.  Reprinted in Gail Dines and Jean Humez, eds.,Race, Class, Gender, a Reader, December 2010.  

Ralina L. Joseph.  “Changing Hair/Changing Race: Black Authenticity, Colorblindness, and Hairy Post-ethnic Costumes in Mixing Nia.”  In Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair/Body Politics in Africana Communities.  Eds., Kimberly Moffitt and Regina Spellers. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2010.  

Ralina L. Joseph.  “The Paradox of the Movement Child and the Tragic Mulatto: Rebecca Walker in Black, White, and Jewish.”  The Black Scholar’s special issue, “The Politics of Biracialism,” eds. Laura Chrisman, Habiba Ibrahim, and Ralina L. Joseph, volume 39, number 3-4, December 2009.   

Ralina L. Joseph.  “‘Who is the Market for This Film?’: The Politics of Distributing Mixing Nia.”  In Race/Gender/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers, edited by Rebecca Ann Lind, 286-293.  Boston: Pearson Educational, Inc., 2004 and 2009.  

Works in Progress

Ralina L. Joseph, “‘Mutts Like Me’: Mixed-Race African American Humor in the Obama Era,” in Are You Entertained?: New Essays on Black Popular Culture in the 21st Century, eds. Simone Drake and David Ikard, Duke University Press, forthcoming.

Allison Briscoe-Smith and Ralina L. Joseph, Generation Mixed Goes to School: Fostering Mixed-Race Conscious Spaces in School Communities (book under contract with Teachers College Press)

Meshell Sturgis and Ralina L. Joseph, “Ailment and Antidote: Is Multiraciality the Cure? A Case Study of Mixed-Race Blackness in 23andMe,” forthcoming in Race and Ethnicity in the Media in the 21st Century, ed. Lori Kido Lopez, NYU Press.

Naheed G. Aaftaab and Ralina L. Joseph, “Microaggressions and Interventions” (article in development)

Anjuli Brekke, Naheed G. Aaftaab, and Ralina L. Joseph, “Telling and Listening to Racial Hurt” (article in development)

Ralina L. Joseph and Naheed G. Aaftaab, Interrupting Microaggressions: A Field Guide (book in development)