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White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness Hardcover – January, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Maybe this is what President Clinton had in mind when he tried to kickstart a national discussion on race. Berger's book is subjective, fragmented and, most appealingly, devoid of piety. The son of a dark-skinned but racist Sephardic Jewish mother and a pale-skinned father who admired but didn't know blacks, Berger was raised in a mostly black New York City housing project, where he found himself navigating the shoals of identity and allegiance. In this book, he juxtaposes his memories and observations with a collage of interviews, anecdotes and quotes from other writers?many of them black?about the way we mythologize race. In some ways, this is a particularly good subject for such an approach, since attitudes about race are so much a matter of individual perspective and experience. And his broadening of focus allows Berger to encompass some potent voices, from the dreadlocked black person mistaken for Whoopi Goldberg to the white-seeming black artist Adrian Piper, whose Calling Card 1, a work of art and functional calling card, alerts people to racist remarks. But the format also has its limitations. Berger's treatment of affirmative action doesn't give enough credit to strong criticisms, and the story of his university education, in which black intellectuals were slighted, isn't followed by acknowledgment of today's multiculturalism. (He now teaches at the New School for Social Research in New York.) But Berger deserves credit?and readers?for coming up with an idiosyncratic way to think publicly about the vexing problems of race and racism.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

White "lite" characterizes the type of racism on which Berger focuses in this interesting treatment on race relations. But that doesn't negate the substantial value of this book to the new genre that deals with whiteness as an appropriate focus of America's troubled race relations. Berger does a good job of highlighting the subtleties of modern racism as unconsciously practiced by white Americans. He notes that when such practices are pointed out, whites usually deny the implication, and embarrassment results. Berger also focuses on his own experience and background as a white orthodox Jew, growing up in New York. He was raised by a mother whose expressions of racism against blacks were mirrored by a preference, if not favoritism, his father felt toward blacks. Yet neither parent had substantive relations with blacks who were their neighbors. The book is rounded out with numerous race-significant experiences of some whites and a few blacks that further mirror the myths and lies under which we reflect, if not relate, in an interracial world. Vernon Ford

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; 1st edition (January 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374289492
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374289492
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,320,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Maurice Berger is a cultural historian, art critic, and curator. He is Research Professor and Chief Curator at the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Consulting Curator at The Jewish Museum in New York. Berger's essay series, Race Stories, "a continuing exploration of the relationship of race to photographic portrayals of race," appears monthly on the Lens Blog of the New York Times.

A student of the pioneering theoretical art historian, Rosalind E. Krauss, he completed a B.A. at Hunter College and Ph.D. in art history and critical theory at the City University of New York. He then turned his attention to race. One of the few white kids in his low-income housing project on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Berger grew up hyper-sensitized to race. Due to his experiences, he looked beyond the world of "critical theory" to address the relevance of visual culture, and especially images of race, to everyday life.

Berger engages the issues of racism, whiteness, and contemporary race relations and their connection to visual culture in the United States. His study on institutional racism--"Are Art Museums Racist?"--appeared in Art in America. Berger has also curated a number of race-related exhibitions, including For All The World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights--a joint venture of the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution and the Center for Art, Design & Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This exhibition examines the role played by visual images in shaping, influencing, and transforming the modern struggle for racial equality and justice in the United States. It opened at International Center of Photography in New York in May 2010 and travels to the DuSable Museum of African American History (Chicago), Smithsonian National Museum of American History (DC), Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (Baltimore), Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover, MA) and other venues. For All the World to See was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities as the tenth NEH on the Road exhibition, an initiative that will adapt the exhibition in a smaller, lower security version and travel it to up to 35 more venues, mostly smaller and mid-size institutions across the country over a five year period from 2012 to 2017.

Berger is the author of eleven books on the subject of American art, culture, and the politics of race. His memoir, White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999) was one of the earliest books to introduce the idea of "whiteness" as a racial concept to a more general audience. The book was a finalist for the Horace Mann Bond Book Award of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research, Harvard University and received an honorable mention from the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award of Boston University School of Social Work. Other books include: Masterworks of the Jewish Museum (Yale, 2004); The Crisis of Criticism (The New Press, 1998); Constructing Masculinity (Routledge, 1995); Modern Art and Society (HarperCollins, 1994); How Art Becomes History (HarperCollins, 1992); Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s (Harper & Row, 1989). Berger's writing on art, film, television, theater, law, and the politics of race have appeared in many journals and newspapers, including Artforum, Art in America, New York Times, Village Voice, October, Wired, and Los Angeles Times. He has also contributed essays to numerous exhibition catalogs and anthologies.

Berger is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts; book awards from the American Library Association, W.E.B. DuBois Institute of Harvard University, Boston University School of Social Work, and Benjamin L. Hooks Institute of the University of Memphis; curatorial honors from the International Association of Art Critics, American Section and the Association of Art Museum Curators; and a 2011 Emmy Award nomination for his work on the "For All the World to See" segment of WNET's Sunday Arts.

Berger has also been involved in a number of national and local initiatives around American race relations, visual culture, and education in the arts. From June 2002 to March 2005, he was Chairman of the External Advisory Committee of The Digital Library of The New York Public Library. He currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion, Columbia University (New York), Education Committee of Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Artistic Advisory Committee of National Foundation for Jewish Culture. He is the author of "The Crisis in Art Education," a white paper requested by President William Jefferson Clinton for his Committee on the Arts and The Humanities (1995) and a Position Report, The Future of the National Endowment for the Arts, requested by the Democratic National Committee for the transition team of President-elect Bill Clinton (1992).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I decided to buy WHITE LIES after reading a number of really good reviews of it (notwithstanding the weird Kirkus review above that seems to have little to do with the actual book). At first I was skeptical. Just another book, by a white guy no less, on race. Just another guilt trip, I thought. As I started to read the book, I began questioning many of my assumptions and attitudes about race. The book took me on a journey, a journey through fragments of feelings, and ideas, and memoir that I could relate to and that really made me rethink every attitude I have about race, about black people, about my personal relationships with the people I live and work with. This journey was not always easy. Berger's writing can be demanding and even disturbing; but it is also elegant.This book is not just another white guy's self-rightious argument about race. It is gentle call to self-examination that is truly worth reading and pondering.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Mr Berger has, with great courage and strength allowed readers into his own past in order to explain how racism is fostered and taints our every day lives. I am sure, given Mr. Berger's position and reputation it was not an easy task for him to deal with his past let alone display for all. Yet his experiences and those of other contributors let readers understand the insidious nature of racism from personal perspectives without it being a collection of hard luck stories. I found hearing from both black and white contributors so necessary to gain an understanding of what is an increasingly complex issue due to the extent of which it is ignored or deemed to be "cured".Current studies concerning "whiteness" and current modes of thinking concerning race are also looked, making this an extremely well rounded debate. I found this book to be extremely easy to read, both very touching and one of the most intelligent views on racism of late. Ilook forward to reading far more by Mr.Berger on this most important topic in the future and hope his work extends past America in the future.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Maurice Berger's WHITE LIES challenges--the writing is potent, distilled, and very clear; the content probes, through the vehicle of his own life and stories and writings of others, many assumptions, especially those of white people who may consider themselves beyond racism of any kind. The format is different and fresh, full of subtle (and not-so-subtle) surprises about our own attitudes, the world we live in, and the permeation of racism in our culture. The power of whiteness seeps into everything--an awakening to what's always been obvious to non-whites. But it is also a memoir, and equally fascinating in that repect. Here is a man who understands "otherness" and the powerlessness that goes with it. His youth is spent as one who is fiercely intelligent and sensitive, but trapped in his own, often confounding cage of otherness. In particular, the portraits of his parents are compelling, conveying Berger's love and frustration. In Berger's spare language, they come to life, almost jump off the page, as complicated and isolated, from society and each other. What he shows us throughout is profound, disturbing, but somehow hopeful. He portrays, rather than eviscerates, the realities of our society. I saw it more as a wake-up call than a condemnation. His vision is clear, and he opens our eyes as well. It's a book to think about long after the last page is read.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Doug Vaughn HALL OF FAME on April 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Whenever whites write about race they run the risk of falling into any one of a number of traps: they can be patronizing when expressing concern, dismissive of real problems when trying to be "realistic", genuinely stupid in suggesting simplistic solutions that involve only individual attitudes while ignoring the impact of history, custom and economic factors and, most typically, having no awareness of how their own "whiteness" distorts their views of what MUST be normal and acceptable. Berger's book is unique, in my experience, in not only avoiding these pitfalls but going to great pains to make the reader aware of them. It is said that fish can have no concept of water since that is their only environment. In the same way, most whites are unaware of the weight of racial prejudice that is felt by all minorities, because they are immersed in the dominant culture, while those on the outside are painfully aware that they are outside.
Berger writes from a unique perspective; that of an intelligent and perceptive man reared in public housing in New York, whose mother was a racist and whose father was a supporter of the civil rights movement. He was not only aware of race as an issue early in his life, but was torn between his parent's opposing views while simultaneously trying to apply those contradictions to the people he knew outside the home - largely minorities. The issue seems to have obsessed him, but ultimately in a positive way. This book, part biography, part essay, part reportage, cannot be easily described. It is fragmented and impressionistic, but its focus is clear - to make the reader (and it seems to assume a white reader) really aware of all the unspoken lies that support the privalege of white power in America.
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