Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights

Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights

by Robin Bernstein


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Winner, Outstanding Book Award, Association for Theatre in Higher Education

Winner, Grace Abbott Best Book Award, Society for the History of Children and Youth

Winner, Book Award, Children's Literature Association

Winner, Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize, New England American Studies Association

Winner, IRSCL Award, International Research Society for Children's Literature

Runner-Up, John Hope Franklin Publication Prize, American Studies Association

Honorable Mention, Book Award, Society for the Study of American Women Writers

Part of the American Literatures Initiative Series

In Racial Innocence , Robin Bernstein argues that the concept of "childhood innocence" has been central to U.S. racial formation since the mid-nineteenth century. Children—white ones imbued with innocence, black ones excluded from it, and others of color erased by it—figured pivotally in sharply divergent racial agendas from slavery and abolition to antiblack violence and the early civil rights movement.

Bernstein takes up a rich archive including books, toys, theatrical props, and domestic knickknacks which she analyzes as "scriptive things" that invite or prompt historically-located practices while allowing for resistance and social improvisation. Integrating performance studies with literary and visual analysis, Bernstein offers singular readings of theatrical productions from blackface minstrelsy to Uncle Tom's Cabin to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz literary works by Joel Chandler Harris, Harriet Wilson, and Frances Hodgson Burnett; material culture including Topsy pincushions, Uncle Tom and Little Eva handkerchiefs, and Raggedy Ann dolls; and visual texts ranging from fine portraiture to advertisements for lard substitute. Throughout, Bernstein shows how "innocence" gradually became the exclusive province of white children—until the Civil Rights Movement succeeded not only in legally desegregating public spaces, but in culturally desegregating the concept of childhood itself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814787083
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 12/01/2011
Series: America and the Long 19th Century Series , #16
Pages: 318
Sales rank: 1,007,118
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Robin Bernstein is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University.  Her previous books include Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Playing Innocent: Childhood, Race, Performance
1 Tender Angels, Insensate Pickaninnies: The Divergent Paths of Racial Innocence
2 Scriptive Things
3 Everyone Is Impressed: Slavery as a Tender Embrace from Uncle Tom’s to Uncle Remus’s Cabin
4 The Black-and-Whiteness of Raggedy Ann
5 The Scripts of Black Dolls
Notes Index
About the Author

What People are Saying About This

Daphne Brooks

Nineteenth and early twentieth-century material culture comes alive in Robin Bernstein's brilliant study of the racialized and gendered ideologies that shape, inform and continue to haunt notions of American childhood into the present day. Through imaginative and masterfully innovative archival research, Bernstein shows how representations of childhood and child's play are integral to the making of whiteness and blackness and citizenship in this country. Racial Innocence is a groundbreaking book that for the first time illuminates the powerful and critical connections between constructions of girlhood, racial formations and American popular culture. (Daphne Brooks, Princeton University)

Karen Sanchez-Eppler

Bernstein's powerful account of how the sentimental ideology of childhood innocence, and particularly its highly gendered manifestations, function to articulate racial hierarchies gives strong and detailed evidence for how paying attention to childhood serves to refocus many all too familiar, and troublesome, facets of American culture. I know of virtually no one of her generation who writes with this kind of verve, authority and pleasure. Racial Innocence will prove an important and widely read book—in part simply because it will be so much fun to read. (Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Amherst College)

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