This essay probes our scholarly commitment to Shakespeare at a time when contemporary racial politics continues to test our resolve in mobilizing our scholarship in the cause of a just society. An intense public debate over the deaths of unarmed black persons has emerged at a time when the thesis of a post-racial, colorblind America had inserted itself into mainstream thinking as evidence of the growing sentiment to move beyond race and to erase its explicit and violent history. Among the most striking findings arising from the documentation of these killings is the split in the public reaction along distinctly racial lines. Othello’s dying speech raises related concerns insofar as he is anxiously aware of the possible outcome of having a white narrator tell his story. Such a narrator, the essay argues, is a prototype for the modern scholar in a majority white field like Shakespeare studies who must confront new data pertaining to white privilege and bias in the United States. Hazlitt and subsequent critics appear to have little difficulty affirming that “it is we who are Hamlet,” but the same has not been true of black Othello. By contrast, the essay’s appeal, “We are Othello,” is meant to disrupt the silence around whiteness in order to make visible and productively politicize the subject identities of critical practitioners in the field.
We are Othello: Speaking of race in early modern studies