Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Elda Tsou

Second Advisor

Derek Owens

Third Advisor

Anne E Geller


The national story of America is one of a country that has managed the contradictory: many bodies coming together, “out of many, one.” However, such a mythos naturally evades the problematic erasure of many cultural and minority bodies and stories, in the proposition that unity demands such an erasure. As an extension of American civil society, the U.S. military has operated as a part of this system of whiteness, while its military operations have been celebrated as victory for progress and democratic ideals, particularly in WWII. Bodies of color, recruited into the national agenda through military service, while historically denied equal freedoms and rights under American civilian society, highlight, and uphold, this systemic contradiction. Military whiteness, a structural and implicit form of whiteness, surfaces in both the WWII era and now in the 21st century military in racially exclusive recruitment language, war preparation and policies, and in media portrayals such as military advertising. As such, military service for servicemen of color becomes a “no man’s land”, a constantly shifting space, where the serviceperson’s individual identity and work become unregistered or submerged within the national agenda of the abstract national subject: the American G.I.

Military service is thus not only a civic duty or national obligation, but the site and catalyst of a particular kind of citizen authoring: a critical cultural citizenship for servicepersons of color. This form of cultural citizenship is pronounced as an asymmetrical authorship, an indirect reckoning with whiteness. This dissertation presents three archival examples of asymmetrical authorship through black WWII veterans and cultural producers Romare Bearden, abstract expressionist visual artist, Masood Ali Warren, sculptor and painter, and John Henrik Clarke, Africana Studies founder and activist. Their authorship, whether in private soldier letters building community, visual art during their military service, recordings or journal writings, represent their bodily reality in resistant and parallel ways, as a new form of cultural citizenship, critical of the American identity while deeply embedded within its national hegemony. America’s myth of exceptionalism is thus contradicted by the work of the very soldiers that served such an ideal.