Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

Black for a Day: White Fantasies of Race and Empathy

by Alisha Gaines

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In 1948, journalist Ray Sprigle traded his whiteness to live as a black man for four weeks. A little over a decade later, John Howard Griffin famously "became" black as well, traveling the American South in search of a certain kind of racial understanding. Contemporary history is littered with the surprisingly complex stories of white people passing as black, and here Alisha Gaines constructs a unique genealogy of "empathetic racial impersonation--white liberals walking in the fantasy of black skin under the alibi of cross-racial empathy. At the end of their experiments in "blackness," Gaines argues, these debatably well-meaning white impersonators arrived at little more than false consciousness.

Complicating the histories of black-to-white passing and blackface minstrelsy, Gaines uses an interdisciplinary approach rooted in literary studies, race theory, and cultural studies to reveal these sometimes maddening, and often absurd, experiments of racial impersonation. By examining this history of modern racial impersonation, Gaines shows that there was, and still is, a faulty cultural logic that places enormous faith in the idea that empathy is all that white Americans need to make a significant difference in how to racially navigate our society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469632841
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 03/27/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 230
Sales rank: 947,945
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Alisha Gaines is assistant professor of English at Florida State University.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

In this substantial and impressive examination of race and performance, Alisha Gaines constructs a genealogy of cross-racial empathy that raises the stakes for how we represent and receive black bodies in the twenty-first century.—Marvin McAllister, author of Whiting Up

Fresh and incisive, Black for a Day delivers a smart examination of what's at stake when people attempt to cross racial lines temporarily. Alisha Gaines's nuanced examination on the many complicated layers that inform the 'black experience' makes this book a timely and important read.—Jonathan Holloway, author of Jim Crow Wisdom

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