Daughter of Robert E. and Faith Ringgold Wallace
African American cultural critic and feminist theorist Michele Wallace received her B.A. (1974) and M.A. (1990) from the City College of New York, where she did graduate work in African American literature and feminist literary criticism. She has taught journalism at New York University, and creative writing and African American literature at the University of California at San Diego, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Buffalo. Wallace joined the faculty of the City College of New York and the City University of New York Graduate Center in 1989, teaching literature and women's studies.
Wallace's articles, essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in a number of anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She is best known for her two books of cultural criticism, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979, reprinted with a new introduction by the author in 1990, and again in 1999) and Invisibility Blues (1990).
Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, published when Wallace was twenty-six, generated an enormous amount of controversy; and the debates it provoked continue to resonate. Using autobiography, psychohistory, literary and political criticism, sociological study, and feminist theory, she examines the ways in which racism and sexism distort relationships between black men and women. She argues that black leaders and writers give credence to the stereotypes of the black stud and the super matriarch imposed on them by whites. These myths, she says, perpetuate hatred and self-hatred and leave black men and women at odds with one another and politically powerless. Wallace contends as well the black power movement failed because it equated manhood and masculinity with power and did not move beyond the sexual politics that play an important role in maintaining the oppression and marginalization of black women.
Some critics, like June Jordan, felt Wallace's youth invalidated her arguments, many of which were based on personal experience. Others criticized her for devaluing the civil rights and black power movements and for neglecting the additional factors leading to their demise, such as institutional racism, economic inequality, and political assassinations.
Many critics agreed with Wallace, however, seeing her as a harbinger for change and praising her for urging black women to assert their own identity. Even those who thought her vision was limited agreed that it provoked important and necessary discussion about the future of African Americans in general and of black women in particular.
In Invisibility Blues (1990), Wallace turns her attention to questions of representation, examining popular culture and its limited representations of black womanhood from a black feminist perspective. She discusses the ways in which black artists, ranging from her mother, artist Faith Ringgold, to pop superstar Michael Jackson, make a distinct contribution to American culture and at the same time challenge the status quo or disrupt the dominant discourse. Wallace repudiates the notion that black women are marginal to the production of culture or knowledge and explores the ways in which demands for their solidarity with black men often render women's contributions to the struggle for liberation invisible.
Invisibility Blues has been generally well received. Wallace's unique combination of popular journalism and rigorous scholarship makes an important contribution to the field of cultural studies and to the formidable and growing body of black feminist criticism.
Black Popular Culture (with G. Dents, 1992, 1998). Contributor to many anthologies, periodicals and exhibition catalogues, including: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies (1982). Global Television (1988). Multi-Cultural Literacy (1988). Art in America (Dec. 1990). Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures (1990). Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology (1990). Aperture (Spring, 1992). Our Town (1992). America Street: A Multicultural Anthology of Stories (1993). Aesthetics in Feminist Perspective (1993). Black American Cinema (1993). The Cultural Studies Reader (1993). Race, Identity, and Representation in Education (1993). Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader (1994). Constructing Masculinity (1995). Division of Labor: "Women's Work" in Contemporary Art (1995). Face Value: American Portraits (1995). Subjects and Citizens: Nation, Race, and Gender from Oroonoko to Anita Hill (1995). Ms. (1995, 1996).
Coleman, L. M., "Cultural Representations of Blackness: Discourse, Identity, and Voice in the Texts of bell hooks and Michele Wallace, 1979-1992 " (thesis, 1994). Exum, P. C., Keeping the Faith (1972).
African American Review (1995). Black American Literary Forum (Winter 1984). Black Female Authors& Playwrights (video, 1989). Black Women, Sexual Politics and the Revolution (video, 1991, 1992). College Literature (Oct. 1993). Essence (Feb. 1979, Aug. 1979). Journal of Communication (Spring 1991, Autumn 1991). Michele Wallace (video, 1991). Nation (17 Feb. 1979, 15 July 1991). New Directions for Women (Jan. 1992). New Statesman and Society (30 Nov. 1990). Newsweek (5 Feb. 1979). NYTBR (18 Mar. 1979). Signs (Spring 1995). Washington Monthly (Feb. 1979). Woman's Art Journal (1999).
UPDATED BY SYDONIE BENET