Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940

Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940

by Grace Elizabeth Hale
     
 

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Making Whiteness is a profoundly important work that explains how and why whiteness came to be such a crucial, embattled—and distorting—component of twentieth-century American identity.  In intricately textured detail and with passionately mastered analysis, Grace Elizabeth Hale shows how, when faced with the active citizenship of their

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Overview

Making Whiteness is a profoundly important work that explains how and why whiteness came to be such a crucial, embattled—and distorting—component of twentieth-century American identity.  In intricately textured detail and with passionately mastered analysis, Grace Elizabeth Hale shows how, when faced with the active citizenship of their ex-slaves after the Civil War, white southerners re-established their dominance through a cultural system based on violence and physical separation.  And in a bold and transformative analysis of the meaning of segregation for the nation as a whole, she explains how white southerners' creation of modern "whiteness" was, beginning in the 1920s, taken up by the rest of the nation as a way of enforcing a new social hierarchy while at the same time creating the illusion of a national, egalitarian, consumerist democracy.

By showing the very recent historical "making" of contemporary American whiteness and by examining how the culture of segregation, in all its murderous contradictions, was lived, Hale makes it possible to imagine a future outside it. Her vision holds out the difficult promise of a truly democratic American identity whose possibilities are no longer limited and disfigured by race.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Confronted with losing the distinction between free and slave, rebel Southerners created a common whiteness to solve their post-Civil War-era problems, argues Hale (history, Univ. of Virginia). They built a nationalism of denial, a world of white and black, of power and fear. In literature, the marketplace, and public spectacle, they crafted a collectivity based on segregation as a culture, making whiteness a racial identity and the American norm even while asserting that it was natural and not the product of human choice. And as Hale shows in this absorbing cultural history of racial construction, it wasn't just white Southerners who embraced the individual and collective identity of superiority but Northerners as well. Her thesis on the evolution of racial identity in this country is not entirely new but is greatly enhanced by her fine literary and cultural detail. This work complements Ian Haney-Lopez's White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (LJ 12/95) and David Theo Goldberg's Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning (Blackwell, 1993) and his more recent Racial Subjects: Writing on Race in America (Routledge, 1997). Recommended for collections on the South and U.S. culture, history, or society.Thomas Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe
Booknews
Hale (American history, U. of Virginia) explains how and why whiteness came to be such a crucial, embattled, and distorting component of 20th-century American identity. She shows how, when faced with the active citizenship of their ex-slaves after the Civil War, white Southerners re-established their dominance through a cultural system based on violence and physical separation. She analyzes the meaning of segregation as a whole, and explains how modern whiteness was taken up by the rest of the nation in the 1920s as a way of enforcing a new social hierarchy. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
First-timer Hale's impressive examination of the Jim Crow Southþan erudite intellectual survey of the sweeping social, historical, and economic trends that shaped white racial identity in opposition to blacknessþis obscured by deadly academic jargon. The central myth Hale debunks is that whiteness is an organic, rather than manufactured, racial identityþthat it is, somehow, the American norm. She identifies several large cultural forces that influenced white racial identity. The replacement of local merchandise with a national mass market, for example, gave rise to advertising (much of it created in the North) that manipulated southerners' nostalgic remembrance of loyal, subservient slaves by using African-American icons like Aunt Jemima to sell goods to a nationwide audienceþpresumed to be entirely white. Advances in printing technology made it easier to distribute demeaning images of African-Americans, reinforcing negative stereotypes. Just as black racial identity was largely defined in relation to whiteness after Reconstruction, Hale asserts, whiteness was defined by blackness. Analyzing how whites of different economic and educational backgrounds shared a unified sense of supremacy, she fleshes out Ralph Ellison's famous declaration: "Southern whites cannot walk, talk, sing, conceive of laws or justice, think of sex, love, the family or freedom without responding to the presence of Negroes." But in place of Ellison's simple eloquence, Hale raises an impenetrable thicket of theoretical jargon (terms like þtranshistorical,þ þisomorphic,þ and þdialecticsþ rain like candy from a Mardi Gras float). She glosses the CivilWar's outcome thus: "Union victory delegitimated that nascent nationalist collectivity, the Confederacy." Furthermore, her contention that "this corresponding depth of racial obsession occurred only with passing" for African-Americans spectacularly understates the totality with which whites controlled black life during Jim Crow's dark reign. One senses in Hale's (American History/Univ. Of Virginia) cogent, encyclopedic scholarship the debut of an important new intellectual voiceþall the more reason to regret the cloaking of provocative thinking in the fusty duds of academic prose. (8 pages b&w photos)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679776208
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/28/1999
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
769,821
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.89(d)

Meet the Author

Grace Elizabeth Hale is an assistant professor of American history at the University of Virginia.  She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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