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Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White [Paperback]

by David R. Roediger
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 9, 1999 0805211144 978-0805211146 1st Pbk. Ed
In this thought-provoking volume, David R. Roediger has brought together some of the most important black writers throughout history to explore the question: What does it really mean to be white in America?

From folktales and slave narratives to contemporary essays, poetry, and fiction, black writers have long been among America's keenest students of white consciousness and white behavior, but until now much of this writing has been ignored.  Black on White reverses this trend by presenting the work of more than fifty major figures, including James Baldwin, Derrick Bell, Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Du Bois, bell hooks, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker to take a closer look at the many meanings of whiteness in our society.

Rich in irony, artistry, passion, and common sense, these reflections on what Langston Hughes called "the ways of white folks" illustrate how whiteness as a racial identity derives its meaning not as a biological category but as a social construct designed to uphold racial inequality. Powerful and compelling, Black on White provides a much-needed perspective that is sure to have a major impact on the study of race and race relations in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

American literature boasts a long history of white authors writing about blacks. From Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, to Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's controversial study of ethnicity and intelligence, The Bell Curve, the right of white writers to examine the lives of black people is accepted without comment. But where are the commentaries by black writers on white culture? They exist, to be sure--Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Zora Neale Hurston, to name just a few, have all written on the subject of "white folk"--but little if any of this work ever makes it into the consciousness of mainstream America. This new anthology might just change all that.

Edited by David R. Roediger, Black on White brings together some of the most succinct writing ever on what it means to be white--from the African American point of view. Consider, for example, William J. Wilson's satiric "What Shall We Do with the White People?":

For many centuries now have they been on this continent; and for many years have they had entire rule and sway; yet they are today no nearer the solution of the problem, "are they fit for self-government"--than they were at the commencement of their career.
Or bell hooks's critical "Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination":
Usually white students respond with naïve amazement that black people critically assess white people from a standpoint where "whiteness" is the privileged signifier. Their amazement that black people watch white people with a critical "ethnographic" gaze, is itself an expression of racism.
Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and Alice Walker are just a few of the heavy-hitters included in an anthology that runs the gamut of African American writers and thinkers. --Alix Wilber

From Library Journal

These two books belong to a growing body of work that examines white identity through African American writings. Historian Roediger (Towards the Abolition of Whiteness, Norton, 1994) here collects illuminating views of "whiteness" from black writers ranging from such early figures as the revolutionary David Walker to contemporaries like Toni Morrison. Some of the expected sources are here, including James Baldwin's Going To Meet the Man and Richard Wright's Black Boy, but among several delightful surprises are George S. Schuyler's essay "Our White Folks" and Alice Walker's "The Dummy in the Window: Joel Chandler Harris and the Invention of Uncle Remus." Although the anthology includes a range of perspectives, Roediger has essentially excluded "the more reflexively antiwhite tradition represented (at times) by the nation of Islam, or by Leonard Jeffries's recent writing on whites." This results in some notable omissions, including Malcom X. Still, this is a valubable collection that should go a long way in helping us to understand America's troubled racial relations. Recommended for all collections. Sartwell (philosophy, Pennsylvania State Univ.) analyzes the perception of whiteness in the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Malcolm X, and contemporary rap music. He contends that whites, in seeking to establish their identity as the norm, ultimately render themselves invisible. Furthermore, white identity is typically constructed in comparison with nonwhite identities, often portraying the latter as inferior, he notes. Through the writings of African Americans, Sartwell believes whiteness can be viewed in a more objective manner. At the same time that he seeks to elucidate the texts, he grapples with his own whiteness. In the process, he has presented an engaging though disturbing investigation of the complex politics of identity. Recommended for academic libraries.?Louis J. Parascandola, Long Island Univ., Brooklyn Campus, NY
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (January 9, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805211144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805211146
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm white and I learned a lot. April 14, 2010
Format:Paperback
I saw this book in the public library and had to check it out. As a white woman who is concerned about civil rights issues, I felt I had to read it. Well, it was certainly eye-opening and uncomfortable in some places.

These African-American authors and cartoonists, featured in these essays, excerpts, and visual art representations, did not pull back from their feelings and observations. They said what they meant, and meant what they said! Their viewpoints were vastly different from mine, and I had to stop and really THINK about it, sometimes in mid-paragraph. That they were telling the truth, from their perspective, cannot be denied.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well presented and an eye-opening perspective January 21, 2011
By Deborah
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Surprisingly candid perspective on the Caucasian American. This was purchased as a text for a course in Communicating Across Cultures an its a keeper. I have not completed the book, but I am 'meeting' an array of writers from a range of era through the 1900's.

You can sit down and plow through, but I am enjoying a small grouping of 'chapters' each time I open it. Then taking some time to consider i just read before taking on another chunk.

Don't expect a book full of anti-white man rants...but a series of snapshots that show us how American culture has not shone their brightest in response to a supposed racial superiority.
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