“The Blackness That Incriminated Me”: Stigma and Normalization in Brothers and Keepers


  • Adam Burston
  • Jesse S. G. Wozniak
  • Jacqueline Roebuck Sakho
  • Norman Conti




This research situates Brothers and Keepers, the memoir of John Edgar Wideman (one of the greatest writers of the past hundred years), within the tradition of Black sociology, arguing that it politicizes the theories in Stigma, the foundational study by Erving Goffman (one of the greatest sociologists of the past hundred years), by grounding them in the lived experience of an African American man. In turn, Goffman’s writing facilitates a reading of Wideman’s work as an attempt to surrender the mask of the “exceptional” Black man among elite whites and reconcile his stellar accomplishments with his stigmatized beginnings as well as his brother’s incarceration. With this effort, Wideman begins to shift from tacit complicity with racial stigmatization to active resistance against it. Our goal in this project is to use Goffman’s concepts of “stigma” and “moral career” to explain Wideman’s growth, and in turn, add a degree of depth and breadth to Goffman’s notions of the “own” and the “wise” lacking in their original formulation.