A staged public piece of theatrics or music comes immediately to mind when one thinks of the noun “performance”—­or perhaps, in everyday use, an exaggerated or fake show of oneself for others. In African American studies, the word has developed broader resonance to incorporate not only creative display, for better or worse, but also a complex way of knowing Black experience and ways of being. From disciplines such as theater and anthropology, “performance” comes into African American studies through attention to practice, to cultural resonances through time and communities, to transformation, and to Black creative virtuosity. The word “performance” and its uses announce African American studies’ concern with community, storytelling, memory (and its loss), action and activity, and experiences of Blackness. In this way, the term “performance,” in Black performance studies, offers the body, memory, and practice as bearer and keeper of knowledge, thus challenging the primacy of text. Performance fundamentally contests the importance of written texts and documents as having primary or original meaning as the bearer of knowledge for all cultures. In scholarship, an overemphasis on text as a bearer of history and as evidence of civilization has allowed those who have controlled text and object archives, often...

This essay may be found on page 136 of the printed volume.

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