Yesterday Belongs to Me: On the Nostalgic Structure of Whiteness

Jesus Luzardo, Fordham University


This dissertation analyzes the phenomenon of nostalgia as a temporal structure, as well as a mode of white racial identity formation. My central claim is that white racial identity is constituted by a nostalgic temporal structure; that is, whiteness is foundationally nostalgic, and it is precisely a nostalgic yearning for the past that provides its underlying logic and its modes of expansion and self-preservation. After analyzing the nostalgia’s history as a medical disorder between the seventeenth and nineteenth century, I develop an account of nostalgia as spatio-temporal longing for the past, which emerges as a reaction against the irreversibility of time, which is mediated by an image of the past, and which is ultimately unassuageable. Then, I argue that one can feel a sense of nostalgic longing for a past that they did not directly experience, through the mediation of social identity as an interpretive horizon. In the remainder of the dissertation, I use the work of Cheryl Harris and Alia A-Saji to show that whiteness, as itself a form of property, staves off its loss of the past (for it understands them to be connected to its expectations) by appropriating and reconfiguring the past. I then ground this analysis in the history of the Lost Cause movement and the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the postbellum South, who gained power and recognition for the South by erecting Confederate monuments and by performing, organizing, and funding other commemorative rituals throughout the South. Finally, I analyze the antebellum northern minstrel show, and argue that Blackness serves as a particularly potent, and in fact central, site of nostalgic projection for the white subject. After analyzing the history of the minstrel show between roughly 1829 and 1851, I proceed to an aesthetic analysis of the minstrel as performing an exhibition of Blackness. Then, I lay bare the ambivalent projections which whiteness directs towards Blackness by analyzing the minstrel as both a comic and a beautiful figure, who in both circumstances helped to both assuage and intensify the white audience’s nostalgia.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Ethnic studies|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Luzardo, Jesus, "Yesterday Belongs to Me: On the Nostalgic Structure of Whiteness" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28089197.