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Rewriting White

Rewriting White: Race, Class, and Cultural Capital in Nineteenth-Century America

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Rewriting White
    Book Description:

    What did it mean for people of color in nineteenth-century America to speak or write "white"? More specifically, how many and what kinds of meaning could such "white" writing carry? InReWriting White, Todd Vogel looks at how America has racialized language and aesthetic achievement. To make his point, he showcases the surprisingly complex interactions between four nineteenth-century writers of color and the "standard white English" they adapted for their own moral, political, and social ends. The African American, Native American, and Chinese American writers Vogel discusses delivered their messages in a manner that simultaneously demonstrated their command of the dominant discourse of their times-using styles and addressing forums considered above their station-and fashioned a subversive meaning in the very act of that demonstration. The close readings and meticulous archival research inReWriting Whiteupend our conventional expectations, enrich our understanding of the dynamics of hegemony and cultural struggle, and contribute to the efforts of other cutting-edge contemporary scholars to chip away at the walls of racial segregation that have for too long defined and defaced the landscape of American literary and cultural studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5835-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction: RECASTING THE PLOT
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1899 James H. Canfield, chancellor of the University of Nebraska, found a value in John Bascom’s work that we would consider odd today. Chancellor Canfield was “delighted” at the re-release of Bascom’s book on rhetoric, the most popular of its kind during the period. Bascom published it thirty-four years earlier to link the laws of the universe, aesthetics, and language, and Canfield found the text useful for his social mission. “I used it when a student at college with greater enjoyment than almost any other text-book in its year; and I have used it steadily as an instructor,” Canfield...

  6. Part I Antebellum Revisions—Public Virtue

    • CHAPTER 1 Speaking to the Whiteness of the Brain
      (pp. 15-39)

      Of all the escapes from slavery, Henry Box Brown’s wins extra credit for creativity: he mailed himself as dry goods from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Like many other escaped slaves, Brown wrote a narrative about his path from chattel to free man. He ended the written narrative of his express shipping with a song he performed on a traveling tour, and his tune reveled in his passage: his descent into the box, the rolling of the rail car, and the chugging of the steamboat. Then the chorus exulted,

      Brown laid down the shovel and the hoe,

      Down in the...

    • CHAPTER 2 William Apess’s Theater and a “Native” American History
      (pp. 40-62)

      When William Apess stood before a crowd in 1836 at Boston’s Odeon Theater, the Pequot essayist and Indian rebellion leader knew that he had tough acts to follow. Down the street, one of the most popular thespians of the nineteenth century, Edwin Forrest, had performedMetamora: The Last of the Wampanoagsoff and on before packed houses for nearly five years. The play starring Forrest, only one of dozens staged in the decade about the “extinct” Indians of the Northeast, told the story of the seventeenth-century King Philip’s War between New England Indians and English settlers. These plays allowed white...

  7. Part II Postbellum Revisions—The Virtue Within

      (pp. 65-84)

      Around the time that William Apess delivered his oration, Charles Mathews performed the act of a language cop. Mathews’s concocted story about Ira Aldridge moved seamlessly and unwittingly from Hamlet’s lines to a possum’s tale and thereby policed borders about who could use what kind of language. His tall tale also presages late nineteenth-century developments in which “aesthetic competence,” the ability to discern “high culture,” replaces in importance “republican competence,” the ability to act as a republican citizen.

      The change moves the public discussion on racial aliens’ ability to participate in society from one location to another. Republican discourse can...

    • CHAPTER 4 Anna Julia Cooper and the Black Orator
      (pp. 85-102)

      On an ideal day, Anna Julia Cooper might have risen before dawn in her Washington, D.C., house, brushed the hair from her soft-brown face, and meticulously dressed in a long, full prairie skirt and a high-necked Victorian blouse. She would glance over the newspaper, rue Calvin Coolidge’s 1924 presidential landslide, and quickly turn to her doctoral dissertation for the Sorbonne. She would work on this treatise about the class structure of French-American colonies, file her work, feed and pack up her five adopted kids for school, and then begin her work day. She would teach a full day of Latin...

    • CHAPTER 5 Edith Eaton Plays the Chinese Water Lily
      (pp. 103-132)

      Look at one of San Francisco photographer Arnold Genthe’s shots of Chinatown from the turn of the twentieth century and at first glance there is no room in the frame for someone who looks like Edith Maude Eaton. Eaton, to most eyes, appeared to be a blue blood. Her father, the son of a venerable British merchant, had raised her in England and Canada. She spoke no Chinese and was even laughed at by the residents of Chinatown when, because of her British-educated Chinese mother, she claimed Asian heritage. Yet Eaton identified so strongly with the Chinese that she eventually...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 133-138)

    In the 1998 novelCauscasia, Danzy Senna’s heroine, Birdie, finally confronts a father whom she has not seen in nearly ten years, and she has an epiphany about her racial makeup. Birdie’s white mother and black father had split under the pressure of the racial and political ferment of the early 1970s. Each followed different paths they felt were marked out for them by their race, and each took one of their two mixed-race daughters to live apart as “white” and “black.” Birdie found her father only when she ran away from home, intent on establishing who she “really” was....

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 139-170)
    (pp. 171-186)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 187-194)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-196)