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Beyond the White Negro

Beyond the White Negro: Empathy and Anti-Racist Reading

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Beyond the White Negro
    Book Description:

    Critics often characterize white consumption of African American culture as a form of theft that echoes the fantasies of 1950s-era bohemians, or "White Negroes," who romanticized black culture as anarchic and sexually potent. In Beyond the White Negro, Kimberly Chabot Davis claims such a view fails to describe the varied politics of racial crossover in the past fifteen years. Drawing on her background in the study of cross-racial empathy, Kimberly Chabot Davis analyzes how white engagement with African American novels, film narratives, and hip-hop can help encourage anti-racist attitudes that may catalyze social change and racial justice. Though acknowledging the oft-bemoaned failure to establish cross-racial empathy, Davis's study of ethnographic data from book clubs and college classrooms shows how a combination of engagement with African American culture and informal or formal pedagogical support can lead to the kinds of white self-examination that make empathy possible. The result is a groundbreaking text that challenges the trend of focusing on society's failures in achieving cross-racial empathy and instead explores possible avenues for change.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09631-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Cross-Racial Empathy: Viewing the White Self through Black Eyes
    (pp. 1-26)

    At the start of the twenty-first century, critics concerned about white appropriation of black culture reached back into their cultural lexicons to resurrect a term that Norman Mailer had popularized in 1957: “The White Negro.”¹ An article aboutBlack and White(1999), a film featuring white teenage fans of urban hip-hop music, declared “The Return of the White Negro.”² Between 1999 and 2003, nearly every media journalist and scholar writing about the rise to fame of the white rapper Eminem felt obliged to use Mailer’s phrase to describe the hip-hop star who claims to be “chocolate on the inside.”³ Revealing...

  6. 1 Wiggers or White Allies? White Hip-Hop Culture and Racial Sincerity
    (pp. 27-78)

    An investigation of white attraction to African American culture should logically begin with music, since “White Negroes” have often been drawn to musical forms as if they are the essence of black creativity. The history of popular music and performance is full of white musicians and singers appropriating and profiting from styles originated by African American performers—slave spirituals, jazz, rhythm and blues, reggae, and hip-hop. A long line of ethnomusicologists and cultural critics have scrutinized this form of co-optation, putting under the microscope such artists as George Gershwin, Sophie Tucker, Mezz Mezzrow, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, the Police, Mick...

  7. 2 Oprah, Book Clubs, and the Promise and Limitations of Empathy
    (pp. 79-110)

    Critical conversations about white appropriations of blackness have focused largely on the spheres of popular music and the performing arts—from jazz, blues, and hip-hop music to vaudeville, dance, fashion, and Hollywood film.¹ Yet signs are everywhere that African Americanliteratureis enjoying unprecedented circulation among white readers. Beginning with bestsellers like Alice Walker’sThe Color Purple(1982), this publishing renaissance was fueled in the late 1990s by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club of contemporary fiction (hereafter referred to as OBC). While white women constitute the majority of Oprah’s talk-show audience, ten of her forty-six book-club selections between 1996 and 2002...

  8. 3 Reading Race and Place: Boston Book Clubs and Post-Soul Fiction
    (pp. 111-148)

    For the members of Oprah’s Book Club, discussion takes place within the disembodied and dislocated worlds of television and the Internet, but it is important to remember that books are most often read, interpreted, and talked about in the context of a reader’s particular locality—his or her “reading habitat.” In the previous chapter, I drew evidence from a variety of texts and reading sites in order to ground my hypotheses about cross-racial empathy fostered by African American literature. This chapter takes a localizing turn by comparing two novels, Edward P. Jones’sThe Known World(2003) and Danzy Senna’sCaucasia...

  9. 4 Deconstructing White Ways of Seeing: Interracial-Conflict Films and College-Student Viewers
    (pp. 149-200)

    The previous two chapters have demonstrated the power of books and engaged discussion to engender cross-racial empathy. Can visual culture do the same? Many academics and film critics believe that film hassuperiorpower as a medium to provoke viewer empathy.¹ The writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch calls film (as well as fiction) an “anti-egoistic” medium, while the cognitive film theorist Alex Neill believes that the visual and musical elements of cinema induce empathy even more strongly than does literature.² Professor Brenda Allen argues that the video documentarySkin Deep, which spotlights college students discussing their views about race, allows...

  10. CONCLUSION. Black Cultural Encounters as a Catalyst for Divestment in White Privilege
    (pp. 201-210)

    The protagonist of Alice Randall’s novelPushkin and the Queen of Spadesis a black woman named Windsor, a Russian literature professor and Harvard graduate who spends her life trying to resist stereotypes of blackness. Much to her dismay, her son Pushkin seems to have become a walking stereotype, a professional football player in love with a white lap dancer, a Russian émigré. Literature means little to him; he breaks his mother’s heart by using a first edition of Du Bois’sThe Souls of Black Folkas a coaster. Unlike her son, Windsor respects the life-changing power of books. She...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-246)
  12. Index
    (pp. 247-254)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-260)