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Act Like You Know: African-American Autobiography and White Identity 1st Edition

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226735276
ISBN-10: 0226735273
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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Publishers Weekly

This latest contribution to "whiteness studies" alternates between being provocative and intelligent and being irritating and repetitive. Sartwell's primary focus appears to be African American autobiography, but just as fascinating to him is his own status as a white scholar attempting "both to inscribe my own racism and to elide it or even destroy it." Thus, this fairly accessible work of criticism tries to be both "autobiographical theory as well as theory of autobiography." It succeeds in neither completely, but offers some cogent insights along the way about the limits of the slave-narrative genre; Malcolm X's attempt to unify and thus empower the African American self; and the "deeply subversive" potential of rap music, a subject white scholars seem never to tire of. But as a writer, Sartwell, a professor of humanities and philosophy at Penn State, Harrisburg, is jargon-ridden ("ejection is ejaculation") and repetitive, often at the same time. He plays at reaching a broader-than-academic audience by offering self-congratulatory comments about identifying with "Malcolm" ("I'm a traitor to my race") and having black body language ("I'd had that since junior high"). He disdains white students who want their texts "pre-chewed," but then assumes statements like "the white man is culture, the black woman nature" are obvious and need no explanation. Ultimately, the primary texts Sartwell addresses are in no way enhanced by this explanatory text, nor will many readers be interested in Sartwell's "obviously problematic" relation to his subject matter.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (July 20, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226735273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226735276
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,906,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Crispin Sartwell's book is not only bravely honest, but it also causes readers to be honest with themselves. As a white man in the south who both feared and romanticized Americans of African descent, I found Crispin's book to be illustrative not only of the epistemology that he frankly addresses, but of my own hidden feelings. Rarely can I point to a single book and say that it changed how I view myself, but this one has.
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By A Customer on December 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I think that it's really great that academics are starting to look at majority groups (whites, men, straights) as they do minority ones. And the intro of this book makes the author sound like a progressive, cool guy. However, I am not convinced that these biographies speak of whiteness as he claims they do. I preferred "Critical White Studies" and "Was Blind But Now I See" over this book. In addition, "Stiffed" and "The Invention of Heterosexuality" are better books as well. This was a great project that turned into a book that will just collect dust on my shelf.
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