Stylin': African American Expressive Culture, from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit

Overview

For over two centuries, in the North as well as the South, both within their own community and in the public arena, African Americans have presented their bodies in culturally distinctive ways. Shane White and Graham White consider the deeper significance of the ways in which African Americans have dressed, walked, danced, arranged their hair, and communicated in silent gestures. They ask what elaborate hair styles, bright colors, bandanas, long watch chains, and zoot suits, for example, have really meant, and ...
See more details below
Paperback
$24.88
BN.com price
(Save 7%)$26.95 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (14) from $6.88   
  • New (4) from $20.63   
  • Used (10) from $6.88   
Sending request ...

Overview

For over two centuries, in the North as well as the South, both within their own community and in the public arena, African Americans have presented their bodies in culturally distinctive ways. Shane White and Graham White consider the deeper significance of the ways in which African Americans have dressed, walked, danced, arranged their hair, and communicated in silent gestures. They ask what elaborate hair styles, bright colors, bandanas, long watch chains, and zoot suits, for example, have really meant, and discuss style itself as an expression of deep-seated cultural imperatives. Their wide-ranging exploration of black style from its African origins to the 1940s reveals a culture that differed from that of the dominant racial group in ways that were often subtle and elusive. A wealth of black-and-white illustrations show the range of African American experience in America, emanating from all parts of the country, from cities and farms, from slave plantations, and Chicago beauty contests. White and White argue that the politics of black style is, in fact, the politics of metaphor, always ambiguous because it is always indirect. To tease out these ambiguities, they examine extensive sources, including advertisements for runaway slaves, interviews recorded with surviving ex-slaves in the 1930s, autobiographies, travelers' accounts, photographs, paintings, prints, newspapers, and images drawn from popular culture, such as the stereotypes of Jim Crow and Zip Coon.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This volume provides fascinating glimpses (including more than 50 illustrations) of black culture, from owners' annoyance at their slaves' taste in color to beauty contests."—Booklist

"As this brisk, illuminating survey amply documents, African American culture—from the 19th-century dandy mocked by whites to today's baggy hip-hop clothing—has helped make black survival possible in America, both as link to the homeland and as voice of resistance. Using material as varied as runaway slave advertisements, autobiographies, beauty-contest fliers and sociological surveys, the authors bring to vivid life 'the way in which, over more than two centuries, ordinary black men and women developed a style that did indeed affirm their lives.' . . . This well-researched and engaging history pulls together a mostly untold story with as much verve as the swinging dandies it depicts."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Focusing on such variegated indicators of black style as dress, hair, body language, and dance, the authors reveal an evolving semiotics of black self-creating that has been designed from its very outset to impose a degree of individuality on the numbing uniformity bred of slavery, poverty, Jim Crow laws, and white racism. . . . This volume represents an excellent example of how to use the most unlikely materials, such as newspaper-sponsored beauty pageants from the '20s, to examine how a people's culture defines its values in the face of oppression. . . . Well written and intelligently argued. It even has that rarity of rarities in a university press book: a preface that is delightfully funny. A highly useful contribution to black history from an unexpected direction, in every sense of that phrase."—Kirkus Reviews

"Sifting through photographs, paintings, interviews, and surveys, the authors detail how blacks from the slavery era to World War II developed a self-affirming, expressive body style that differentiated them from the larger society and was manifested in clothing, hairstyles, dance, gestures, and other personal attributes. They argue that the politics of 'black' style was the embodiment of ambiguity, acting as subtle jab to the dominant racial group."—Library Journal

"In this slim but fascinating volume of essays, scholars Shane White and Graham White try to divine the roots and meanings of African-American body adornment."—Baltimore Sun Newspaper, Baltimore MD

"A lively survey of Afro-American culture from its roots to the zoot suit."—Midwest Book Review

"Innovative, thought-provoking, and consistently entertaining. . . . The authors' observations on the distinctive ways in which working class African Americans have dressed, styled their hair, and communicated meaning via gesture, dance, and other forms or bodily display reveal the existence of a vibrant, life-affirming black aesthetic sensibility that for generations has challenged white Americans' misplaced assumptions of superiority. . . . This well-illustrated, beautifully produced study does an admirable job of extracting an African-American perspective on cultural mediation from non-black and non-traditional sources."—Georgia Historical Quarterly

"In this brilliant and much anticipated book, Graham White and Shane White have essentially given us a history of the black body in public during the last two centuries. Building from a rich lode of historical and anecdotal evidence, their readings of antebellum clothing and hairstyles, social dancing, parades, beauty pageants, even self-mutilation offer a fresh interpretation of African American political and cultural history. Each page testifies to African American culture's enduring hybridity; it has always drawn from the wellspring of Afro-diasporic traditions, popular culture, the vernacular of previous generations of black folk, technological innovations, and a whole lot of imagination."—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Yo' Mama's DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America

"Must reading for anyone interested in cracking the mysteries of African-American culture. From language to gestures, dance to dress, hair to high-steppin', Stylin' decodes the deepest secrets of black life."—Ira Berlin, author of Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African American Kinship in the Civil War Era

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As this brisk, illuminating survey amply documents, African American culturefrom the 19th-century dandy mocked by whites to today's baggy hip-hop clothinghas helped make black survival possible in America, both as link to the homeland and as voice of resistance. Using material as varied as runaway slave advertisements, autobiographies, beauty-contest fliers and sociological surveys, these Australian scholar brothers bring to vivid life "the way in which, over more than two centuries, ordinary black men and women developed a style that did indeed affirm their lives." At times, such affirmation worked through parody uneasily sensed by whites, if only subconsciously; at others it expressed itself directly in pride in fine dress or beauty contests. Slavery's totalitarian domination might be mitigated through the brightly colored patchwork clothing one former slave suggests this in her desire "to look pretty sniptious"; in the North, free black men and women fought for the dignity that intolerant whites strained to deny them by claiming a right to street life. During Reconstruction, in contrast, former slaves paraded through white sections of town to signal communal pride in Emancipation or, later, put on their finery and promenaded in the Saturday-night "Stroll." By the time the book reaches 1940s zoot-suiters, its claims for the vital role played by African American expressive culture seem entirely undeniable; this well-researched and engaging history pulls together a mostly untold story with as much verve as the swinging dandies it depicts. 19 drawings; 37 b&w photos. Mar.
Library Journal
The authors (both history, Univ. of Sydney, Australia) conceived and wrote this work in their homeland, providing an outsider's fresh perspective on the African American cultural milieu. Sifting through photographs, paintings, interviews, and surveys, they detail how blacks from the slavery era to World War II developed a self-affirming, expressive body style that differentiated them from the larger society and was manifested in clothing, hairstyles, dance, gestures, and other personal attributes. The authors argue that the politics of "black" style was the embodiment of ambiguity, acting as a subtle jab to the dominant racial group. Several of the chapters have appeared previously in scholarly journals and a monograph. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries with African American collections.Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Libs., South Bend, IN
Kirkus Reviews
Two Australian historians (brothers, incidentally) from the University of Sydney examine the ways in which black style has been interpreted and the political and social implications it has carried from slavery to WW II. African-American history has been written on the black body in a variety of ways, many of them cruel and inhuman. Slaves were branded, had their ears cropped, were whipped mercilessly. A slave's body was not his/her own property in the most literal sense, but as the Whites observe in this engrossing volume, there were many ways in which they could assert some small measure of independence. Focusing on such variegated indicators of black style as dress, hair, body language, and dance, the authors reveal an evolving semiotics of black self-creation that has been designed from its very outset to impose a degree of individuality on the numbing uniformity bred of slavery, poverty, Jim Crow laws, and white racism. In the first half of the book, which is concerned with the period before emancipation, the authors draw creatively on a multitude of sources—ranging from the memoirs and diaries of travelers in the South to handbills advertising rewards for the capture of runaway slaves—to recreate a largely forgotten aspect of black daily life. This volume represents an excellent example of how to use the most unlikely materials, such as newspaper-sponsored beauty pageants from the '20s, to examine how a people's culture defines its values in the face of oppression. Although the book is occasionally a bit repetitive in the early going, as its authors seek to build a case with somewhat slender evidence, it is well written and intelligently argued. It even has that rarity ofrarities in a university press book: a preface that is delightfully funny. A highly useful contribution to black history from an unexpected direction, in every sense of that phrase. (19 drawings, 37 b&w photos, not seen)
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801482830
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,398,760
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)