Racechanges : White Skin, Black Face in American Culture

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This text examines racial impersonations - ie, blackface - in modern American film, fiction, poetry, painting, photography and journalism. Gubar shows how the white popular imagination has evolved through a series of oppositional identities that are dependent on the idea of black others. Gubar draws from an extensive range of illustrative work, with examples from high and low culture, from turn-of-the century to present day. This book is intended for scholars and students in popular culture, African-American studies and 20th-century American studies.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 350 pages
  • 166.9 x 231.9 x 28.2mm | 716.67g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 96 halftones, bibliography
  • 0195110021
  • 9780195110029

Review quote

Both relevant and timely ... offers a welcome insight into the complex and controversial world of minstrelsy, or cross-racial impersonation ... fascinating source materials ... a fascinating study of racialised representations and imitation. Nations and Nationalism Gubar presents an intensely thought provoking investigation of the cultural space inhabited by artists, writers and entertainers whose work, intentionally or not, challenges the notion of a fixed opposition between black and white. American Studiesshow more

About Susan Kamholtz Gubar

About the Author: Susan Gubar is Distinguished Professor of English at Indiana University. She has co-authored and co-edited a range of books with Sandra Gilbert, from The Madwoman in the Attic (a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award) to The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women.show more

Review Text

Synthesizing the remarkable work over the last 15 years of scores of cultural historians, theorists, and critics who have been engaged in documenting and analyzing the ubiquitous legacy of blackface minstrelsy and racial posing in 20th-century American culture, Gubar has assembled a comprehensive catalog of cross-racial iconography. The paradox that despite our preoccupations with social divisions by race, the identities and psychologies of black and white Americans are inextricably interdependent is nowhere more evident than in modern popular culture. Gubar, coauthor with Sandra Gilbert of a groundbreaking work of feminist literary criticism, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), examines the pervasive role of cross-racial impersonation in the development of American melodrama (beginning with Uncle Tom's Cabin) and musical theater, motion pictures (D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation and Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer), popular radio shows (Amos 'n'Andy), and new journalism (John Howard Griffith's 1960 study Black Like Me), as well as in European experimental literature, painting, and photography. She also clearly identifies the ethical issue at the center: "How can white people understand or sympathize with African-Americans without distorting or usurping their perspective?" Of course, who is the subject and the object of the gaze has a great deal to do with whether the act of "racechange" is transgressive or regressive, but there are persistent ambiguities in the act. Gubar appreciates and articulates multilayered complexities and ironies that evolve along with American cultural expression, although occasionally she comes up with an interpretation that seems overdetermined. Gubar addresses the major issue of why potentially liberating acts of racial masquerade so often end up serving racist ends and are only now being used to envision postracist ways of being and seeing. This is an important book for the way it highlights an active but underacknowledged field of cultural inquiry, and a study bound to prompt further debate. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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7 ratings
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