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The Souls of White Folk

The Souls of White Folk: African American Writers Theorize Whiteness

Veronica T. Watson
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    The Souls of White Folk
    Book Description:

    The Souls of White Folk: African American Writers Theorize Whiteness is the first study to consider the substantial body of African American writing that critiques whiteness as social construction and racial identity. Arguing against the prevailing approach to these texts that says African American writers retreated from issues of "race" when they wrote about whiteness, Veronica T. Watson instead identifies this body of literature as an African American intellectual and literary tradition that she names "the literature of white estrangement."

    In chapters that theorize white double consciousness (W. E. B. Du Bois and Charles Chesnutt), white womanhood and class identity (Zora Neale Hurston and Frank Yerby), and the socio-spatial subjectivity of southern whites during the civil rights era (Melba Patillo Beals), Watson explores the historically situated theories and analyses of whiteness provided by the literature of white estrangement from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. She argues that these texts are best understood as part of a multipronged approach by African American writers to challenge and dismantle white supremacy in the United States and demonstrates that these texts have an important place in the growing field of critical whiteness studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-980-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction NAMING The Literature of White Estrangement
    (pp. 3-14)

    In 1860, William J. Wilson, writing under the pseudonym Ethiop, published an article entitled “What Shall We Do with the White People?,” an irreverent essay that turns the nineteenth-century debate about the fitness of black people for citizenship on its head by raising questions about the ability of white people to engage in self-government and the body politic. Ethiop argues that White Americans are marked by their persistent “discontent and disaffection,” disrespect for all manifestations of humanity, and violence (58). After tracing their turbulent history, he wonders what has caused “this discontent, this unquiet state, this distress,” and concludes that...

  6. Chapter One “A FORM OF INSANITY WHICH OVERTAKES WHITE MEN” W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles Chesnutt, and the Specter of White Double Consciousness
    (pp. 15-58)

    In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois published the now classic The Souls of Black Folk. In the Forethought, he explains that he wrote the book to explore the “problem of the Twentieth Century . . . the color-line” by “outlin[ing] the two worlds within and without the Veil” (359). In these profound words that begin his treatise, Du Bois signals his primary concern with race—which he understood more as a sociocultural or sociohistorical divide than a biologically based difference between people—in the United States. It was a conversation both timely and daring at the turn of the...

  7. Chapter Two “SHAPING HERSELF INTO A DUTIFUL WIFE” Demythologizing White Femininity and the White Home in Frank Yerby’s The Foxes of Harrow and Zora Neale Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee
    (pp. 59-102)

    White woman. The phrase conjures up images of refinement, elegance, class, and beauty. White women are smart, but not overbearingly so; they are appropriately supportive of their husbands and protective of their beautiful families; they are good mothers. They are gorgeously pale and thin but not enough to suggest illness. They are desirable and desired. They are monied. The White woman is often sheltered and always protected. She is good, kind, and never malicious. She follows her heart and tries to do what is right. When she is wrong, it is because she is misled. White women are luminous. Their...

  8. Chapter Three “OCCUPIED TERRITORY” Mapping the Spatial Geographies of White Identity and Violence
    (pp. 103-128)

    In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public schools was illegal, overturning fifty-eight years of legal support for the policy of “separate but equal.”¹ Three years later—and only a few years before images of attack dogs, fire hoses, bombed structures, and the uninhibited force of racial brutality would become commonplace in American civic and political consciousness—schools in many Southern communities, including Little Rock, Arkansas, were in the early stages of implementing plans that would desegregate institutions of learning from the primary grades through postsecondary levels. Against this backdrop,...

  9. Conclusion “NO WHITE AND LEGAL HEIR” The Responsibility of Whiteness in a Multiracial World
    (pp. 129-142)

    African American intellectuals have a long, rich history of critical engagement with constructions of Whiteness. From W. E. B. Du Bois’s and Charles Chesnutt’s interest in the psychology of Whiteness to Frank Yerby’s and Zora Neale Hurston’s examinations of white women’s understanding and use of power in a racist patriarchy to Melba Pattillo Beals’s suggestive linking of space, identity, and violence in the making of Whiteness, the literature of white estrangement has consistently excavated the meanings and costs of Whiteness for white folks. People of color have had to know Whiteness with an intimacy not required of white folks themselves,...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 143-154)
    (pp. 155-166)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 167-170)