English professor’s new book explores Black, Indigenous connections

Author: SF State News
October 25, 2021

Jimi Hendrix single-handedly transformed the sound of the electric guitar with his virtuoso playing inspired by rock, blues, jazz — and his Native American heritage. A new book by SF State Professor Sarita Cannon explores Hendrix’s identity as a Black Cherokee as well as other notable Americans who share African and Indigenous roots.

“Black-Native Autobiographical Acts: Navigating the Minefields of Authenticity” (Lexington Books, 2021) also focuses chapters on the Federal Writers Project’s slave narratives from 1936 to 1938, model Radmilla Cody, photographer Valena Broussard Dismukes and early 1900s writer, actor and activist Sylvester Long Lance.

“This book is an invaluable resource for understanding Black-Native subjectivities, while also mapping the complexities of racial identity formation,” Seattle University English Professor Carlyn Ferrari said.

In the 2020 U.S. Census, more than 344,000 respondents self-identified as biracial African American and Native American/Alaska Native.

Cannon, who teaches in SF State’s English Language and Literature Department, says she hopes the book will encourage readers to further study and discuss the “long, complex and intriguing history of people of African and American Indian heritage.” As research on Black-Indigenous identities and histories has exploded in the past 20 years, she notes, her book offers a new methodology for understanding their experiences, rooted in her training as a literary scholar.

“It is a history that cannot be reduced to a narrative of conflict or of collaboration, and it is a history that reveals much about our past and present understandings of ‘race,’” she said. “I also hope that readers will think about the gatekeeping politics within their own communities. How do we determine belonging? Who makes that determination? What are the stakes of that determination?”

Read more about Cannon and her book on the SF State News website.