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Race, Passing, and Lynching: Angel’s “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been

by Ethan Tussey

by Taylor Boulware for IN MEDIA RES

Angel’s “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” (2.2) takes us back to the second Red Scare of 1952 when Angel is living in the Hyperion Hotel amongst blacklisted writers and actors, closeted gay men, and a variety of other folks with secrets to keep and suspicions to bear. This historical interlude about McCarthyism metaphorically exaggerated by a paranoia demon is a complex exploration of race, passing, and lynching.

This episode situates the show within a history of passing in American culture and literature in which “anxiety over the unstable meaning of ‘race’” manifests in a variety of ways (Bennett 30). The episode’s destabilization of race extends to an exploration of the racist logic of blood purity, as demonstrated by Angel and Judy's conversation about blood. Judy’s blood prevents her from being “white,” and Angel’s desire for blood separates him from humanity. The power of blood links these two liminal figures, but it is also the catalyst of their rejection of each other: Judy uses the blood Angel keeps in his room to drink as evidence of his deviancy, leading to his lynching. The racist logic of blood purity is challenged, yet its power proves unsurmountable for Judy.

Jacqueline Goldsby argues that “anti-black mob murders [are] a networked, systemic phenomenon indicative of trends in national culture” and are “tool[s] of domination meant to coerce...to deny...and to subjugate...black people” (5,18). By placing Judy’s near-lynching and Angel’s actual lynching in the historical context of McCarthyism, Angel is presenting racial violence as a systemic policing of racial boundaries intimately bound to larger social and political events. However, this is done through the lynching of a white man, further complicating this episode’s exploration of race.

What are the implications of a white man allowing himself to be lynched in order to save a black woman who has been passing and thus violating the dominant racial order? Charges of racial paternalism and expressions of white guilt are not unfounded. Furthermore, Angel’s vampirism means that the hanging will not kill him. Does this allow for a metaphorical recuperation of the violence of lynching by allowing the victim to survive? If so, can we (should we?) reconcile this exploration of anti-black racism and lynching with its representation through a white subject? And finally, how might this exploration of race and racism in Angel inform conversations about race across the Whedonverse?

 

Race, Passing, and Lynching: Angel’s “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been

by Ethan Tussey

by Taylor Boulware for IN MEDIA RES

Angel’s “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” (2.2) takes us back to the second Red Scare of 1952 when Angel is living in the Hyperion Hotel amongst blacklisted writers and actors, closeted gay men, and a variety of other folks with secrets to keep and suspicions to bear. This historical interlude about McCarthyism metaphorically exaggerated by a paranoia demon is a complex exploration of race, passing, and lynching.

This episode situates the show within a history of passing in American culture and literature in which “anxiety over the unstable meaning of ‘race’” manifests in a variety of ways (Bennett 30). The episode’s destabilization of race extends to an exploration of the racist logic of blood purity, as demonstrated by Angel and Judy's conversation about blood. Judy’s blood prevents her from being “white,” and Angel’s desire for blood separates him from humanity. The power of blood links these two liminal figures, but it is also the catalyst of their rejection of each other: Judy uses the blood Angel keeps in his room to drink as evidence of his deviancy, leading to his lynching. The racist logic of blood purity is challenged, yet its power proves unsurmountable for Judy.

Jacqueline Goldsby argues that “anti-black mob murders [are] a networked, systemic phenomenon indicative of trends in national culture” and are “tool[s] of domination meant to coerce...to deny...and to subjugate...black people” (5,18). By placing Judy’s near-lynching and Angel’s actual lynching in the historical context of McCarthyism, Angel is presenting racial violence as a systemic policing of racial boundaries intimately bound to larger social and political events. However, this is done through the lynching of a white man, further complicating this episode’s exploration of race.

What are the implications of a white man allowing himself to be lynched in order to save a black woman who has been passing and thus violating the dominant racial order? Charges of racial paternalism and expressions of white guilt are not unfounded. Furthermore, Angel’s vampirism means that the hanging will not kill him. Does this allow for a metaphorical recuperation of the violence of lynching by allowing the victim to survive? If so, can we (should we?) reconcile this exploration of anti-black racism and lynching with its representation through a white subject? And finally, how might this exploration of race and racism in Angel inform conversations about race across the Whedonverse?

 

Red Scare on Angel

A clip from the TV show Angel

from Angel (2000)
Creator: Joss Whedon
Distributor: Vimeo
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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