Alisha Gaines

Timothy Gannon Associate Professor
WMS 228
African American literature and studies, Black feminisms, popular culture, gender and sexuality studies, cultural studies, New Southern studies, race and empathy, empathy and historical reenactment

Alisha Gaines is the Timothy Gannon Associate Professor of English with a PhD in English and a certificate in African and African American Studies from Duke University. From 2009-2011 she held a Carter G. Woodson postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia. Since joining the faculty in 2011, Dr. Gaines was named a 2014-2015 McKnight Junior Faculty Development Fellow. In 2014, FSU's Spiritual Life Project honored her with a Transformation Through Teaching Award, and she won a university-wide Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2017.

Her first manuscript, Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy, was published with UNC Press (Spring 2017). The project rethinks the political consequences of empathy by examining mid-to-late twentieth and twenty-first century narratives of racial impersonation enabled by the spurious alibi of racial reconciliation. Black for a Day constructs a genealogy of white liberals who temporarily "become" black under the alibi of racial empathy. Its genealogy includes: the magical racial change of a white Senator in the 1947 musical, Finian's Rainbow; journalist Ray Sprigle's four weeks as a black man in the South in 1948; journalist and memoirist, John Howard Griffin's, five weeks as a black man in 1959; Grace Halsell's stunt as a black woman in Harlem and Mississippi for six months in 1969; and the families of the Sparks and the Wurgels switching races for reality television in 2006. The project's epilogue then turns to the cultural nerve struck by the viral media story of Rachel Dolezal, a former NAACP chapter president who was "outed" for claiming she was black.

Her interdisciplinary teaching interests include African American literature and culture, black queer theory, media and performance studies, narratives of passing, and New Southern studies.

She is currently researching her second manuscript on empathy and transatlantic, historical reenactments of, and public histories about, slavery and segregation.


  • “Passing for Tan: Snooki and the Grotesque Reality of Ethnicity” in the edited collection, Neo-passing: Performing Identity after Jim Crow. University of Illinois Press, 2018.
  • Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
  • “John Howard Griffin” entry in the Children’s Literature Review Series, Vol 211. GALE/CENGAGE Learning, 2017. (Editor)
  • "'A Secondhand Kind of Terror': Grace Halsell, Kathryn Stockett, and the Ironies of Empathy," in From Uncle Tom's Cabin to The Help: Critical Perspectives on White-Authored Narratives of Black Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  • Book Review. Christian DuComb, Haunted City: Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia. Winterthur Portfolio, Spring 2020.


Publications By This Author