Archibald Motley Jr. and Racial Reinvention: The Old Negro in New Negro Art

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2017-09-06 04:20Z by Steven

Archibald Motley Jr. and Racial Reinvention: The Old Negro in New Negro Art

University of Illinois Press
September 2017
248 pages
6 x 9 in.
8 color photographs, 34 black & white photographs

Phoebe Wolfskill, Assistant Professor
Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies
Indiana University, Bloomington

The painter’s struggle at the crossroads of artistic expression and social progress

An essential African American artist of his era, Archibald Motley Jr. created paintings of black Chicago that aligned him with the revisionist aims of the New Negro Renaissance. Yet Motley’s approach to constructing a New Negro–a dignified figure both accomplished and worthy of respect–reflected the challenges faced by African American artists working on the project of racial reinvention and uplift.

Phoebe Wolfskill demonstrates how Motley’s art embodied the tenuous nature of the Black Renaissance and the wide range of ideas that structured it. Focusing on key works in Motley’s oeuvre, Wolfskill reveals the artist’s complexity and the variety of influences that informed his work. Motley’s paintings suggest that the racist, problematic image of the Old Negro was not a relic of the past but an influence that pervaded the Black Renaissance. Exploring Motley in relation to works by notable black and non-black contemporaries, Wolfskill reinterprets Motley’s oeuvre as part of a broad effort to define American cultural identity through race, class, gender, religion, and regional affiliation…

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The Signifyin(g) Saint: Encoding Homoerotic Intimacy in Black Harlem

Posted in Articles, Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, Gay & Lesbian, History, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Religion on 2017-03-15 01:36Z by Steven

The Signifyin(g) Saint: Encoding Homoerotic Intimacy in Black Harlem

Black Perspectives
2017-03-14

James Padilioni Jr, Ph.D Candidate and Teaching Fellow in American Studies (Africana-affiliated)
College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

On June 25, 1942, Edward Atkinson arrived at 101 Central Park West to sit for a photo shoot in the home studio of Carl Van Vechten. Van Vechten, author of the infamous 1926 novel Nigger Heaven, was a white patron of the Harlem Renaissance and amateur photographer who took hundreds of photographs of Black Harlem’s who’s who such as Paul Robeson, Billie Holiday, and James Weldon Johnson. Atkinson, an off-Broadway actor no stranger to playing a role, transformed himself into Martin de Porres (1579-1639), a Peruvian friar who became the first Afro-American saint when the Vatican canonized him in 1962 as the patron of social justice. I trace Martin’s iconography and ritual performances across Black communities in Latin and Anglo America to reveal the historical relations of power that structure and materialize the networks harnessed by Black peoples to mobilize resources in their varied yet persistent efforts to create meaningful lives out of the fragments of the Middle Passage

Read the entire article here.

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The Forgotten Work of Jessie Redmon Fauset

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-02-20 01:52Z by Steven

The Forgotten Work of Jessie Redmon Fauset

The New Yorker
2017-02-18

Morgan Jerkins

Among the events that helped to crystallize what would come to be known as the Harlem Renaissance was a dinner, in March, 1924, at the Civic Club, on West 12th Street. The idea for the dinner was initially hatched by Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the editor of Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League and, under Johnson, one of the leading outlets for young black writers. Johnson planned to invite twenty guests—a mix of white editors and publishers as well as black intellectuals and literary critics—to honor Jessie Redmon Fauset and the publication of “There Is Confusion,” her début novel, about a black middle-class family’s struggle for social equality. But when Johnson ran the idea by the writer and philosopher Alain Locke, who he hoped would serve as master of ceremonies, Locke said that the dinner should celebrate black writers in general, rather than just one in particular. So the purpose of the event changed, and the list of invitees grew; among those who ultimately attended were Countee Cullen, Gwendolyn Bennett, Langston Hughes, and W. E. B. Du Bois. That evening, attendees listened to a series of salutations, an address by Locke, and presentations by several black men. At the end of the dinner, Locke—who had praised “There Is Confusion” as what “the Negro intelligentsia has been clamoring for”—introduced Fauset. But though she was a guest of honor, she evidently felt like an afterthought. Years later, in 1933, she would write a scathing letter to Locke (who had just reviewed her most recent novel, about which he had some misgivings), declaring that he, with “consummate cleverness,” had managed, on that evening in 1924, to “keep speech and comment away from the person for whom the occasion was meant”—that is to say, her…

…“Initially, Fauset’s work was dismissed as sentimental and Victorian, primarily because she dealt with ‘women’s issues,’ centering on the marriage plot,” Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, said. Fauset’s second novel, “Plum Bun,” is probably her best, and it received the most attention when it was published, with reviews in The New Republic, the New York Times, and Saturday Review. Like “There Is Confusion,” it is a story about middle-class respectability. It centers on a mixed-race young woman named Angela Murray, who grows up in a posh black neighborhood in Philadelphia where each house looks just the same. All the residents know their neighbors’ names, and everyone goes to church on Sundays. Young women train to be teachers and young men do the same or strive to become post-office workers. Angela, tired of this bourgeois world, wants to become a famous painter, and believes that the only way to do so is to abandon her family, move to New York City, and pass for white. In New York, she meets a poor artist who falls in love with her and a wealthy white man she hopes to marry. At one point, she sees her sister at the train station in New York and pretends not to recognize her, so that she can keep up the charade that she is white. Later, however, in order to support a fellow art student, a black woman, she reveals her true identity. In a conversation with her sister, Angela says, “When I begin to delve into it, the matter of blood seems nothing compared with individuality, character, living. The truth of the matter is, the whole business was just making me fagged to death . . . You can’t fight and create at the same time.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Here, There, and In Between: Travel as Metaphor in Mixed Race Narratives of the Harlem Renaissance

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-12-11 00:23Z by Steven

Here, There, and In Between: Travel as Metaphor in Mixed Race Narratives of the Harlem Renaissance

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
2014-05-09

Colin Enriquez
English Department

Created to comment on Antebellum and Reconstruction literature, the tragic mulatto concept is habitually applied to eras beyond the 19th century. The tragic mulatto has become an end rather than a means to questioning racist and abolitionist agendas. Rejecting the pathetic and self-destructive traits inscribed by the tragic label, this dissertation uses geographic, cultural, and racial boundary crossing to theorize a rereading of mixed race characters in Harlem Renaissance literature. Focusing on train, automobile, and boat travel, the study analyzes the relationship between the character, transportation, and technology whereby the notion of race is questioned. Furthermore, the dissertation divides travel into departure, interstitial, and arrival phases. With the ability to extend perception and experience, media is also interpreted here as transportation. Using figurative and literal travel, the selected narratives move between localities to allegorize 20th mixed race subjectivity. Socially ambiguous and anonymous, interstitial moments suspend the normative performance of race and enable the selected authors’ investigations of race binarism. After the introduction establishes a theoretical frame composed of transnational and migration studies methods, the ensuing chapters demonstrate the interpretive function of travel in Jean Toomer’s Cane, Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, and Walter White’s Flight. This reading is aided by the connection between modernism and mixed race identity as expounded upon in the works of Robert E. Park, Mark Whalan, Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, Jeanne Scheper. However, it differs from these in its assertion of travel as an interpretive mode for mixed race literature as a tradition.

Login to read the dissertation here.

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Another layer of blackness: theorizing race, ethnicity, and identity in the U.S. black public sphere

Posted in Barack Obama, Dissertations, Media Archive, United States on 2014-10-24 18:13Z by Steven

Another layer of blackness: theorizing race, ethnicity, and identity in the U.S. black public sphere

University of Iowa
2013
277 pages

Patrick B. Oray

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in American Studies in the Graduate College of The University of Iowa

While many studies of U.S. immigration highlight the diversity within other racial and ethnic groups, scholarly attention to the significance of ethnicity among black people in this country is still sorely underdeveloped. This dissertation project explores how black identities are constructed not only through the prism of race in the U.S. context, but also through other social dynamics that operate “in the shadow of race,” such as differences in class, color, country of origin, and circumstances of migration. Instead of a singular black identity fueled by our political discourses and popular culture, my project treats “blackness” as a floating signifier that is constructed both within the racial organization of the U.S. nation-state and among the peoples of the black diaspora within its borders. In short, blackness is a matter that has become national, international, and transnational in scope.

Ethnicity and its implications for how we think about black identity and group representation in U.S. society is the other “layer of blackness” this dissertation addresses. The formation and reshaping of American identity among various immigrant groups have historically involved complicated relationships between race and ethnicity, two concepts scholars have used to articulate group identities in the U.S. The history of U.S. racial and ethnic relations reveals the complicated processes through which some social groups have been able to establish their place in the American mainstream by adapting to the cultural and institutional norms established by mainstream white society. Non-white immigrant groups have been forced to find their American identities on the margins of U.S. society because of their purported inability or unwillingness to assimilate to established cultural and institutional norms. Sometimes this alienation from the American mainstream takes on a purely racial dimension. At other times, the prejudices of U.S. society are directed at particular ethnic groups.

But in spite of the status ascribed to them, these immigrants have also proven to be empowered agents in their implicit and explicit critiques of the U.S.’s social order. Historically, non-white immigrants in the U.S. have demonstrated the power to question, disrupt, and resist cultural and institutional forms of discrimination even as they are incorporated into them.

My interrogation of black ethnic identity and what it brings to bear on how we define blackness in the U.S. begins by asking what cultural capital black immigrants bring with them in their sojourn to America rather than assuming what is lost in the process of their incorporation into U.S. race relations. Patterns of immigration, return migration and circular migration that have come to characterize the experience of many foreign-born blacks in the U.S., as well as the circulation of ideas, culture, and history between sending and receiving countries are all issues germane to the process of black immigrant incorporation and black ethnic identity in the U.S. As such, the argument I proffer in my dissertation project is this: because of the myriad processes at play in formulating black racial and ethnic identities in America (i.e., historically established structures of race as well as an unprecedented surge in foreign-born black migration this country)-how we define blackness in the U.S. context is more fruitfully theorized as a matter that is at once national, international, and transnational in scope. It is at the nexus of these fronts that the historical and cultural constructions of blackness are currently defined among the diversity of black people in the U.S.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • I. BLACK LIKE WHOM?: AN INTRODUCTION TO RACE, CLASS, AND ETHNICITY IN THE UNITED STATES BLACK PUBLIC SPHERE
    • 1.1 Ethnicity as “Another Layer of Blackness”
    • 1.2 Theorizing the U.S. Black Public Sphere
    • 1.3 Uncovering an Ethnic Layer of Blackness in the U.S. Black Public Sphere
  • II. “NO BOOTBLACK HAITIANS:” BLACK COSMOPOLITAN CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE U.S. OCCUPATION OF HAITI (1915-1934)
    • 2.1 The Roots of Black Cosmopolitan Consciousness in the U.S.: The African-American Press Response to the Occupation
    • 2.2 Cosmopolitanism and the U.S. Black Public Sphere: The Occupation, The New Negro Movement, and the Harlem Renaissance
    • 2.3 The Limits of Cosmopolitanism in the U.S. Black Public Sphere
  • III. SOMEWHERE BETWEEN “BROTHERS” AND “OTHERS” (REPRISE): AFRICAN-AMERICANS, BLACK IMMIGRANTS, AND THE POLITICS OF PLACE
    • 3.1 African Americans and the Transformation of the “Chocolate City” of Oakland, California
    • 3.2 “Challenges to “Umoja” (Unity): The Close Encounters of Black Americans and Black Immigrants in Oakland
    • 3.3 The “Blues City” Finds a New Identity“
  • IV. RACE AND REPRESENTATIONS OF BLACKNESS IN THE ERA OF OBAMA
    • 4.1 Obama’s Presidential Conceit: A “Black Man” Who is Also “Everyman”
    • 4.2 “Articulate, Bright, and Clean”: Barack Obama and the Melodrama of Blackness in Campaign ‘08
    • 4.3 Obama Walks the Tightrope Between “Race” and “Nation”
  • V. CONCLUSION: W(H)ITHER THE BLACK PUBLIC SPHERE?: RACE, ETHNICITY AND IDENTITY IN THE ERA OF OBAMA
  • BIBLIOGRAPHY

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Uptown Girls

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-09-25 21:11Z by Steven

Uptown Girls

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
2013-09-22

Martha A. Sandweiss, Professor of History
Princeton University

Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance, by Carla Kaplan Illustrated. 505 pp. Harper.

Time hasn’t been kind to the white women who participated in the Harlem Renaissance. As philanthropists and activists, authors and patrons, they sought a place for themselves in that remarkable outpouring of African-American art during the 1920s and ’30s. Some, constrained by social expectations, effaced the records of their work. Others made it difficult for historians to treat them with much seriousness. What, after all, can we do with someone like Nancy Cunard, a British steamship heiress raised on a remote English estate, who felt no shame in proclaiming “I speak as if I were a Negro myself”?

“Miss Anne” — the dismissive collective name given to white women — makes bit appearances in the literature of the era as a dilettante or imperious patron; later, she’s depicted as a thrill-seeking “slummer.” Always, she lurks in the shadows of her male counterparts in scholarly studies of the movement. But she was there, encouraging writers, underwriting cultural institutions, supporting progressive political causes. And many leading Harlem Renaissance figures — including Langston Hughes, Alain Locke and Nella Larsen — had reason to be grateful to her. At least for a while. Like everything else about Miss Anne, those relationships got complicated…

…The book is full of fresh discoveries. ­Kaplan learns that Lillian Wood, author of the radical 1920s anti-lynching novel “Let My People Go,” was actually white, not black, as other scholars have imagined…

…But the focus of the book remains squarely on the larger issues of racial identity raised by Miss Anne’s deep personal identification with African-American life. Miss Anne wanted to suggest that race was a constructed ideal, yet she stumbled over the internal contradictions of her impulses. She fought against racial essentialism and the perverse logic of America’s one-drop rule, which proclaimed that even a trace of African heritage made one black, but she also celebrated the seeming vitality and distinctiveness of black culture. Josephine Cogdell Schuyler wrote in her diary the night before her wedding: “To my mind, the white race, the Anglo-Saxon especially, is spiritually depleted. America must mate with the Negro to save herself.” In a similar expression of romantic racialism, the philanthropist Charlotte Osgood Mason lauded “the creative impulse throbbing in the African race.” As Kaplan suggests, white men could sometimes get away with ideas like this; a dose of black culture offered a useful inoculation against the debilitating sterility of the industrial world. But white women who sought an intimate connection with African-­American life were seen as traitors to the race, even sexual deviants.

What was race anyway? That’s the big question Miss Anne’s actions raised. If race was simply a myth or fiction, could one reimagine racial identity as something based on affiliation rather than blood? Some of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance asked much the same thing. In Nella Larsen’s “Passing” and James Weldon Johnson’sAutobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” for example, light-skinned protagonists of African-American heritage successfully pass as white, demonstrating that racial identity could hinge on voluntary association and careful self-presentation. Their radical acts blur the color line and expose the absurdity of the one-drop rule. Approaching the color line from the other side, Miss Anne reframed the issues. If race wasn’t determined by biology, why couldn’t a white woman feel black? Why couldn’t she repudiate her own culture to embrace another?…

Read the entire article here.

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Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2013-09-25 03:06Z by Steven

Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance

HarperCollins Publishers
2013-09-10
544 pages
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 9780060882389; ISBN10: 0060882387
eBook ISBN: 9780062199126; ISBN10: 0062199129

Carla Kaplan, Stanton W. and Elisabeth K. Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature
Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts

New York City in the Jazz Age was host to a pulsating artistic and social revolution. Uptown, an unprecedented explosion in black music, literature, dance, and art sparked the Harlem Renaissance. While the history of this African-American awakening has been widely explored, one chapter remains untold: the story of a group of women collectively dubbed “Miss Anne.”

Sexualized and sensationalized in the mainstream press—portrayed as monstrous or insane—Miss Anne was sometimes derided within her chosen community of Harlem as well. While it was socially acceptable for white men to head uptown for “exotic” dancers and “hot” jazz, white women who were enthralled by life on West 125th Street took chances. Miss Anne in Harlem introduces these women—many from New York’s wealthiest social echelons—who became patrons of, and romantic participants in, the Harlem Renaissance. They include Barnard College founder Annie Nathan Meyer, Texas heiress Josephine Cogdell Schuyler, British activist Nancy Cunard, philanthropist Charlotte Osgood Mason, educator Lillian E. Wood, and novelist Fannie Hurst—all women of accomplishment and renown in their day. Yet their contributions as hostesses, editors, activists, patrons, writers, friends, and lovers often went unacknowledged and have been lost to history until now.

In a vibrant blend of social history and biography, award-winning writer Carla Kaplan offers a joint portrait of six iconoclastic women who risked ostracism to follow their inclinations—and raised hot-button issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality in the bargain. Returning Miss Anne to her rightful place in the interracial history of the Harlem Renaissance, Kaplan’s formidable work remaps the landscape of the 1920s, alters our perception of this historical moment, and brings Miss Anne to vivid life.

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“Maneuvers of Silence and the Task of ‘New Negro’ Womanhood”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-10-22 05:33Z by Steven

“Maneuvers of Silence and the Task of ‘New Negro’ Womanhood”

Journal of Narrative Theory
Volume 42, Number 1, Spring 2012
pages 46-68
DOI: 10.1353/jnt.2012.0006

Emily M. Hinnov, Assistant Dean of Curriculum & Lecturer of English
Granite State College, Concord, New Hampshire

Yes, she has arrived. Like her white sister, she is the product of profound and vital changes in our economic mechanism, wrought mainly by the World War and its aftermath. Along the entire gamut of social, economic and political attitudes, the New Negro Woman, with her head erect and spirit undaunted is resolutely marching toward the liberation of her people in particular and the human race in general.

— Editorial, The Messenger’s “New Negro Woman” issue (1923)
But I have no civilized articulation for the things I hate. I proudly love being a Negro woman; [it’s] so involved and interesting. We are the PROBLEM—the great national game of TABOO.

— Anne Spencer, qtd. in Countee Cullen’s Caroling Dusk (1927)
Here is a woman who tried to be decisive in extremis. She “spoke,” but women did not, do not, “hear” her. Thus she can be defined as a “subaltern”—a person without lines of social mobility.

— Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

Given the primitivist stereotypes projected upon African American women as oversexed, exotic creatures during the Harlem Renaissance era, contemporaneous poet Anne Spencer’s statement suggests that women writers’ doubly conscious performance of self must have been challenging (to say the least). With her comment about the state of “New Negro Womanhood” in mind, we might ask: to what extent were women writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance successful in critiquing representations of race or gender within the context of that male-dominated literary and cultural movement? Forthright literary depictions of race, gender, and mobility in now canonical Harlem Renaissance works by Nella Larsen and Zora Neale Hurston allow expression of varied facets of the African American woman’s experience during the early part of the twentieth century. Hurston’s women (and Hurston herself) refuse to be “tragically colored” and instead embrace the power inherent in their female sexuality—even using it, in part, remain perpetually mobile. For Larsen, however, the triple bind of double-consciousness, female sexuality, and white supremacy eventually disallows any true mobility for her fictional characters. When Larsen was accused of plagiarism in 1930, there were no legal charges, but her career never recovered from this blow. It seemed that “in America, whites might borrow from blacks with impunity, but Negro use of white materials is always suspect” (Douglas 105). As Ann Douglas writes, “The New Negro was a figure with few claims on mainline America’s attention, interest, or sympathy. If he insulted or displeased, he could be cut off, erased, without thought or regret” (106). It is difficult to determine how much mutuality between black and white artists and audiences could have existed in light of Larsen’s fate. She was “cut off” from what has developed into the African American literary canon essentially because she was a black female artist working within the confines of a racist and sexist culture. Thankfully, Larsen’s rediscovery in the 1980s, and the subsequent inclusion of her work in high school, college, and graduate school classrooms, enabled Larsen’s legacy to resist such erasure. Larsen and Hurston’s work has triumphantly evaded the threat of removal from the literary canon thanks to the gynocritical efforts of many feminist scholars, while other writers of the era still languish on the critical precipice of silence.

In this essay, I am especially interested in the ways in which two still largely ignored Harlem Renaissance women writers, Elise Johnson McDougald, in her more straightforward essay “The Task of Negro Womanhood,” and Marita O. Bonner, in her multigenred, haltingly-titled “On Being Young—a Woman—and Colored,” use silence as a means to maneuver among the various identity positions that comprise the interstices of “New Negro Womanhood.” Placing them within the context of more widely known writers of their era such as Hurston and Larsen is edifying,…

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Passing as White: The Life Altering Effects on Loved Ones

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-09-30 17:05Z by Steven

Passing as White: The Life Altering Effects on Loved Ones

Southern Connecticut State University
May 2006
122 pages
Publication Number: AAT 1435422
ISBN: 9780542641824

Kathleen Daubney

A Thesis Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree of Master of Science

This thesis analyzes the theme of passing in Harlem Renaissance literature and deals with the consequences that such transitions to white society had on the passers’ friends and relatives. Choices that one person makes can have a domino and long lasting effect on his or her family and friends. This study focuses on: Passing by Nella Larsen, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson, “Passing,” by Langston Hughes, and Comedy: American Style and Plum Bun both by Jessie Fauset. This thesis discusses if the family and friends have knowledge of the passing, if they had a voice in the novel, and if the children had knowledge of their heritage. It also discusses the effects passing had on the families and friends of the passers, along with their responses.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • PASSING AS WHITE: THE LIFE ALTERING EFFECTS ON LOVED ONES
  • FAUSET’S PLUM BUN: PASSING AND RETURNING
  • LARSEN’S PASSING: ESCAPE, WEALTH, OR APPEARANCE
  • THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLOURED MAN: WHITE, BLACK, WHITE?
  • HUGHES “PASSING”: I LOVE YOU, BUT
  • COMEDY AMERICAN STYLE: OLIVIA’S PASSING, THE FAMILY’S ESCAPE
  • CONCLUSION: TO PASS OR NOT TO PASS
  • REFERENCES

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2012-09-30 03:58Z by Steven

Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture

Oxford University Press
May 1997
356 pages
Paperback ISBN13: 9780195134186; ISBN10: 0195134184

Susan Gubar, Distinguished Professor Emerita and Ruth N. Halls Professor Emerita of English
Indiana University

When the actor Ted Danson appeared in blackface at a 1993 Friars Club roast, he ignited a firestorm of protest that landed him on the front pages of the newspapers, rebuked by everyone from talk show host Montel Williams to New York City’s then mayor, David Dinkins. Danson’s use of blackface was shocking, but was the furious pitch of the response a triumphant indication of how far society has progressed since the days when blackface performers were the toast of vaudeville, or was it also an uncomfortable reminder of how deep the chasm still is separating black and white America?

In Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture, Susan Gubar, who fundamentally changed the way we think about women’s literature as co-author of the acclaimed The Madwoman in the Attic, turns her attention to the incendiary issue of race. Through a far-reaching exploration of the long overlooked legacy of minstrelsy–cross-racial impersonations or “racechanges”—throughout modern American film, fiction, poetry, painting, photography, and journalism, she documents the indebtedness of “mainstream” artists to African-American culture, and explores the deeply conflicted psychology of white guilt. The fascinating “racechanges” Gubar discusses include whites posing as blacks and blacks “passing” for white; blackface on white actors in The Jazz Singer, Birth of a Nation, and other movies, as well as on the faces of black stage entertainers; African-American deployment of racechange imagery during the Harlem Renaissance, including the poetry of Anne Spencer, the black-and-white prints of Richard Bruce Nugent, and the early work of Zora Neale Hurston; white poets and novelists from Vachel Lindsay and Gertrude Stein to John Berryman and William Faulkner writing as if they were black; white artists and writers fascinated by hypersexualized stereotypes of black men; and nightmares and visions of the racechanged baby. Gubar shows that unlike African-Americans, who often are forced to adopt white masks to gain their rights, white people have chosen racial masquerades, which range from mockery and mimicry to an evolving emphasis on inter-racial mutuality and mutability.

Drawing on a stunning array of illustrations, including paintings, film stills, computer graphics, and even magazine morphings, Racechanges sheds new light on the persistent pervasiveness of racism and exciting aesthetic possibilities for lessening the distance between blacks and whites.

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