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Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White Culture: A Social History Hardcover – January 7, 2003

6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Miscegenation, both cultural and biological, brings forth new ideas and undermines narrow conceptions, argues Talty, a noted culture writer for the New York Times Magazine, Spin and Vibe. Describing his project not as traditional academic history but as "literary journalism," Talty draws on a hodgepodge of subjects that he admits cannot serve as a comprehensive survey. His chronology hops from the days when black slaves and white indentured servants mixed to the emergence of a European-minded black intellectual class at the turn of the 20th century and the use of hip-hop as one of the last strongholds of ghetto authenticity. Some of Talty's prose in the earlier chapters, which deal primarily with prevailing notions of blackness in the pre-Civil War era, lacks the forceful, imaginative analysis of later chapters, which showcase the pop-culture byproducts of race mixing. The careers of the first "Black" celebrities, such as Paul Robeson and Dorothy Dandridge, are regarded as complex instances of signification that invigorated the public at large while destroying some of their messengers. Talty's background as a critic is also reflected in his eloquent take on jazz: "It acted as an undertow pulling fans and musicians toward a realization of a complex black humanity, while only barely rippling the surface of 1920s and 1930s race relations." Few of Talty's ideas are revolutionary, but this book is an informed, occasionally inspired work that pulls its historical examples under a broad view of biracialism-as a phenomenon of memes as well as genes. It's a concept that more than sustains this smart, popularizing account.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Talty, a self-defined literary journalist, ponders the American realities of race where the intersection of whites and blacks reveals the essence of the American character. Talty demonstrates this intersection is filled with great creative and destructive tensions, producing energies not always acknowledged in the broader culture. He initially focuses on the ambiguities of race relations in the era of slavery, those points where human recognition across clearly delineated racial barriers seeps through. In later chapters, Talty offers cultural critiques; for example, the role that jazz has played in establishing a common American expression. Talty assesses the crossover impact of soul singer Sam Cooke in the 1960s and then analyzes the controversial black pimp/street life obsession developed by whites in the 1970s as reflected in the music and dress of the disco scene. This is a must-read for readers interested in race and cultural issues. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; F First Edition edition (January 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060185171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060185176
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,657,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephan Talty is the NY Times bestselling author of six acclaimed nonfiction books, as well as two crime novels, "Black Irish" and "Hangman," set in his hometown of Buffalo. He's written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Playboy, the Chicago Review and many others. Talty's ebook, "The Secret Agent," was a #1 Amazon Kindle bestseller in nonfiction.

Talty lives outside New York City with his wife and two children. You can visit his website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mark Mills on July 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The book gets off to a great start with iconoclastic tales of antebellum life in the United States. Chapter 1 covers American 'White' slavery, something that needs a lot more attention. Page 1 includes a photo of an adorable 'White' girl of about 8 whose freedom was purchased by abolishionists in the 1850s. Chapter 2 retells stories of the early 'tent revivals' now known as the 'Great Awakening'. The twist here is to tell it in terms of the slave reaction. Chapter 2 is probably the best chapter of the book. I've never seen anyone make a case for the Great Awakening enticing slaves to 'buy' the American dream, but Talty makes a good argument for it. The Great Awakening too often gets ignored in our overly materialist ethos.
The next two chapters lose a bit of energy. Chapter 3 is titled 'The Mulatto Flag: Interracial Love in Antebellum America." I'm not sure what flag Talty sees waving, because he never distinguishes 'mulatto' as a positive notion, in and of itself. Being 'mulatto' is just something that one happens to get labelled. There are some interesting stories here, though. I didn't know that there were documented cases of 'white' men drinking a few drops of their 'Black' lover's blood to claim mulatto status and get a marriage license. Apparently, this method of gaining mulatto status is written into the popular play 'Showboat.' Chapter four covers the Civil War in 6 short pages. I think this a mistake and the book never really recaptures it's narative drive.
Chapter 5 is called "Memorizing Shakespeare: The Black Elite". W.E.B. Du Bois is the central hero. Du Bois reacts against being 'whiter than white' (memorizing Shakespeare) and seeks to define a 3rd way.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on January 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Talty has written an intelligent, wonderfully lyrical book (like a 1950s riff in two-four time). If six stars were allowed I would give it to this book.
This romp through history teems with the optimistic sounds, rhythms, smells and tastes of all we have come to understand as the proverbial American "melting pot." It is a profoundly uplifting and optimistic read. It is an essential side of the untold-American story, but not the only one. Unfortunately it is as clear to us (the reader)-as it is to Mr. Talty that he has sampled only the best of America-the mélange that is, to our collective dismay, but the fringe on top.
Thus, it is so very easy to be seduced by this book. It is so well written. It reflects so much of the author's passion and love for this country. It is so intelligently thought-out. In short, it is wishful thinking at its delicious best. I love the place in the heart and soul from which this book sprung. At some point in our lives, most of us share that wonderfully optimistic out look on America. We want the best for our country and we also want only to think the best about it. We all yearn for this 400-year old experiment to succeed.
So it is easy to be seduced by Mr. Talty's book. Indeed we want to be seduced by it. And he wants to seduce us. But if one is not careful, he may be completely taken in by it and begin to think for instance that had Dennis Rodman and Madonna had kids their Mulattos off-springs too would have inherited the earth. We might forget that the hiphoppers are also rebelling against Louis Armstrong's grinning teeth. We might think that Elvis and Little Richard were some kind of ambassador for race-mixing. But alas it is not so! It is all a self-fulfilling mirage.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
While exploring a number of interesting subjects, Talty's method creates some serious problems in the historical narrative. An historian has to make some effort to understand other eras on their own terms, and far too often Talty's narrative reminds us that he is very much a man of this time and place. Where the behavior of people doesn't accord with his modern expectations, he simply creates motivations which "explain" the behavior more to his liking. In this, the book often seems more an exercise in polemics than an exploration of the lives people led within the world as they saw it. In a great work of history, the author will fade into the background and the historical narrative will not reveal his presence, but one is continually reminded that this is the work of an American born in the late 20th Century. The simplistic racialism so characteristic of our time, across the political and social spectrum, and which so often tends to blur the complexity and reality of the world, is repeatedly in force. All too often we are told what "the blacks" or "the whites" were thinking at a given moment, far too often in greater detail than would be warranted by the historical sources in describing what even an individual may have been thinking.
This is a book which should be written, but by someone trained in historical methods rather than in journalism, so that the book would, as this one does not, transcend the present to reveal the past. This book reveals more about the author's ideological and cultural filters than about the events described.
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