Dannelle Gutarra Cordero on her first book, 'She Is Weeping'

Written by
Collin Riggins, Department of African American Studies
Nov. 30, 2021

On November 18, 2021, Dannelle Gutarra Cordero, a Lecturer in African American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University, published her first book, titled She Is Weeping: An Intellectual History of Racialized Slavery and Emotions in the Atlantic World. 

As described by Cambridge University Press, Cordero's research "incorporates writers, cultural figures and intellectuals from antiquity to the present day to analyze how discourses on emotion serve to create and maintain White supremacy and racism." Professor Cordero's timely work helps us understand how this racialization of emotion, dating back to the institution of American slavery, has perpetuated the oppression of Blackness into today.

To learn more about She Is Weeping, we asked Prof. Cordero a few questions:

First and foremost, what made you embark on this project?

My long-term research about the intellectual history of scientific racism during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century had shown me that scientific anti-Blackness has primarily strived to perpetrate emotional oppression in order to legitimize racialized enslavement and colonial exploitation. The persistence and vast repercussions of these racialist discourses of differentiated emotions led me to further study the connections between institutional anti-Blackness and scientific intellectual production.

Could you briefly describe some of the key themes that arose in your research?

She Is Weeping first explores the impact of the ancient notion of "slavery to passions" and the medieval concept of "slavery to sin" on the global racialization of slavery. My book then analyzes how, due to these historical precedents, the intellectual history of scientific racism was primarily concerned with emotional criminalization, legitimizing racialized slavery and colonial exploitation in the Atlantic World. These anti-Black scientific discourses of "emotional difference" are essential to the perpetuation of racialized slavery and the expansion of the carceral State.

By publishing She Is Weeping, your first book, you have entered into a rich tradition of research into what it means to be Black in America. What are some previous works or thinkers that have influenced your process? What impact do you hope for your book to have within this tradition?

Throughout my research, I have been mostly inspired by the historical intellectual production of the enslaved. This influence is evidenced in the trigger warning of my book and in the way that I communicate my arguments about racialized enslavement. In other words, my priority became making sure that my book was at all times a safe space for the enslaved and descendants of the enslaved. Now, to be honest, I cannot personally imagine or visualize my book impacting the rich tradition of research in African American Studies because I have always felt insecure about my own writing and scholarship. I have the highest respect and admiration toward the scholarship of African American Studies, and, even after working on this research project for eight years, I cannot help but feel that my writing did not do the research topic justice.

Oftentimes in African American Studies we talk a lot about the ‘afterlife of slavery,’ which seeks to explain how the enslavement of African Americans continues to influence society. This makes studying the so-called historical institution of slavery integral to understanding contemporary systems of power. What can She Is Weeping reveal about America today?

In fact, the last chapter of She Is Weeping explores the racialization of emotions in contemporary racialized slavery. Therefore, my book argues that the institution of racialized enslavement persists and is still premised on emotional injustice. While the larger scope of the book is the Atlantic World, my book contextualizes how the expansion of the carceral landscapes of the United States is grounded on long-lived historical discourses of racialized emotional carcerality.

It is quite clear that African American Studies is an incredibly interdisciplinary field. That is evident in the simple fact that you teach in both the Department of African American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Could you explain how you drew from multiple disciplines in order to examine the racialization of emotion?

Indeed, my book engages with sources from multiple disciplines. It explores scientific/medical texts, philosophical treatises, literary works, films, jurisprudence, governmental reports, among other formats. Nonetheless, all sources are analyzed as primary sources of intellectual history through the lenses of both African American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies. 

To read Professor Cordero's first book, check out Cambridge University Press today.