Black Performance Th eory refl ects upon and extends twentieth-
century intellectual labors to establish black expressive culture
as an area of serious academic inquiry. Here, we bring forward a
wealth of critical paradigms that illuminate the capacities of black
performance and black sensibilities to enable critical discussions
of performance histories, theories, and practices. Authors here are
less concerned with errors of omission in a historical genealogy
of performance studies than a project of revelation, one in which
the capacity of black performance is revealed as a part of its own
deployment without deference to overlapping historical trajec-
tories or perceived diff erences in cultural capital from an elusive
Europeanist norm. Black performance theory emerges now, as we
are convinced of the endurance of black performance even in a
world that daily realigns the implications of race, ethnicity, gender,
sexuality, location, ability, age, and class. As we attempt to capture
the fi eld through defi nitions, dialogues, or performative writing,
we discover two important truths: that black sensibilities emerge
whether there are black bodies present or not; and that while black
performance may certainly become manifest without black people,
we might best recognize it as a circumstance enabled by black sen-
sibilities, black expressive practices, and black people.
To uncover a history of black performance, we begin by consid-
ering naming—the mechanisms used to designate black presence.
For example: African, Ethiop, Negro, colored, black, African Amer-
ican. Th ese monikers demonstrate shift s in thinking about black
identity and representation. Each label represents a context for
packaging ideas about black people in particular places and during
particular historical time periods. African or Ethiop suggests origi-
/ Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez
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